Do you need a HomeKit hub to use smart switches?

This discussion gives me the opportunity to ask a long-time back burner question of mine regarding HomePods and other devices. For various reasons, I’ve never had the desire to have a HomePod or an Alexa device.

I do have an interest in installing a few smart switches to give the illusion of being home when we are not. I have a Nest thermostat, a Rainbird irrigation controller and a drip irrigation hose bib mounted controller that I can control/program/change with their respective apps. I assume smart switches can be tied into a phone app instead of having to have a central device like a HomePod? Anyone have experience with doing this? Any recommendations regarding brands, technical considerations, etc.?

I’ll read responses with interest, since I’m in the same position & just got some smart plugs which I can report on after I’ve tried them out. But this may deserve a new post?

I assume you want capabilities beyond what you can get from a simple timer on a few lamps?

The advantage of smart devices (I use Philips smart bulbs, but I assume smart switches are similar) is that you can set them to turn on and off at different times different days, or even more than once in a given day, which gives even more illusion of being home than a timer that goes on and off at exactly the same time each day. Plus, you can change the settings from wherever you are if you want to (though I’m not that obsessive about it).

While I do have timers that can do the same thing (including “at sunset", “at sunrise”, and even random schedules), I now use HomeKit devices for this myself, too, because I can also control things when I am not there (though that’s because I have Apple TVs acting as hubs.) You can also have automations that are different when people are home vs not home, or depend on the conditions on other HomeKit devices (I have a dehumidifier that runs when the humidity is above 76% and turns off at 73% or below, but only when the temp is above 55°.)

Yes and no and maybe, based on my experiments with my Meross smart plugs, which I set up using Homekit rather than the Meross app (see below).

Homekit setup using an iPhone is easy, and I found that there was no need (as Meross suggests there may be) to switch my Synology 2600ac dual band router to 2.4 GHz only (see further below). Once set up, you can turn the plug on and off from the Home app directly on either an iPhone or a computer. If you want to automate it further or operate it remotely, though, you need to use either an Apple TV or a HomePod (either flavor) as a hub. That’s what I did, and now my dining room light goes on at sunset whenever I’m home, which is what I wanted it to do. The Meross app may offer other possibilities, but I haven’t explored them.

Re. the router settings, Meross advises switching to 2.4 GHz only during setup and switching back once the plug’s set up. I’d suggest not doing that until and unless setup fails, and to be prepared for the possibility that the plug won’t recognize the router when you switch back to dual band. That’s what happened to me. The solution was to do a hard reset of the plug and start all over again, this time using dual band. YMMV.

Finally, if you do get the Meross plugs ($22/pair at Amazon), be sure they have a HomeKit label on the box–they sell otherwise identical ones that don’t work with the Home app.

As far as I know all of the smart devices come with their own apps for setup and control but the UI of some is woeful. The advantage of Homekit is that it integrates them all into one UI. A disadvantage is that many brands don’t work with Homekit.
You can use an AppleTV, Homepod or iPad as a Homekit hub. Bizarrely, not a Mac. There is a great Take Control book on home automation.

You can get (and I actually use) timers that let you schedule multiple on/off times per day (typically at 15- or 30-minute intervals). You can even get some that will vary the time each day to make your home seem more “lived in”.

Of course, if you want to control them when you’re away from home, that will clearly require a smart device of some kind.

Yes indeed, and I forgot to mention the iPad. Bear in mind, though, that whatever you use as a hub needs to be left at home. Which kinda leaves me wondering why a Mac desktop can’t be a hub. O well.

An interesting (and useful) feature of Homekit is that several devices can serve as the Home Hub. If the one in use becomes unavailable the system automatically switches to an available device. It seems to work as a local cloud, with settings stored on multiple devices that are on the same wifi, so they can be used at any time.
I suppose with macOS becoming more and more like iOS it is possible that Macs will be able to be Home Hubs one day. But I am happy with having an Apple TV and Homepods share this task.
Incidentally, the comments about disabling the 5Ghz band of routers when setting up devices might apply to the original (now discontinued) Homepods. However, I suspect most problems have been due to “smart” wifi routers that are too clever for simple devices like the Homepod and Homekit devices. Some people have found that disabling the smart function fixes the issues.

Nice to know. I just returned a HomePod mini because I found its NPR streaming unlistenable-to. Perhaps I shouldn’t have: we’re told it contains as-yet-unactivated temperature and humidity sensors (not that they would be a good idea for a unit located in my kitchen, and besides it’s virtually impossible to clean). And then there’s Thread, which may do away with the need for a hub entirely? I have to say the further I look into it, the more chaotic the future of Homekit scene appears. I will stop looking into it. :sunglasses: