Home automation, specifically Apple’s HomeKit framework and its compatible accessories, is the latest Thing We’re Supposed to Get Excited About™. And it has a lot of promise for convenience, time-saving, and just generally feeling like you live in the future.
The first HomeKit-compatible smartplug is upon us, courtesy of iHome. The ISP5 SmartPlug is a $40 device that plugs into your wall outlet and lets you run whatever you plug into it from your iPhone, using either Siri or the companion app.
It does everything it says it will: You can set up rooms and zones, and control individual appliances or whole groups of them with a tap or quick voice command. It also lets you build “rules” to make your stuff turn on and off without your input. All of this is cool, but when you actually have one, you might struggle to think of useful ways to use it.
The SmartPlug is easy to set up: You just stick it in the wall, hold down the button on the side for about 12 seconds, and then enter an activation code that comes in the box. It talks to whichever Wi-Fi network your iPhone is running, and you just need to set up some nicknames for your home, room and devices before the plug is ready to go.
The limitations started showing themselves almost immediately, however. For one thing, you won’t have much luck connecting it to most of the appliances in your house — specifically because a lot of them have switches that you need to activate manually. So if you want to use the thing on your coffeemaker, and it happens to have an on-off switch that doesn’t work without power, the ISP5 won’t save you any time at all.
After a bunch of disappointments, I finally just decided to use the thing with a boring old lamp in my living room. And it worked just fine there because I could switch the lamp on and then control its power from the app. I can also imagine the SmartPlug being a good fit for in-window air conditioners, humidifiers or space heaters, but I don’t have any of those.
I should add here that I live in a smallish, one-bedroom apartment, so I don’t really have a lot of home to automate. If you live in a house with a bunch of plugs and floors and other fanciness, I could see the SmartPlug being more useful. It had better be, too, since you’d need one plug for each thing you want to control. And at $40 each, that could get expensive pretty quickly.
I guess you could hook the thing up to a power strip and then load it the hell up, but that kind of takes the selectiveness and convenience out of the picture. Unless, of course, you consistently have five things that you would like to be all on or off at any given time; then you’d be dumb not to follow this plan.
Here’s another disappointment that isn’t the ISP5’s fault, but it’s still a bummer: HomeKit does not, as of yet, work with Siri on the Apple Watch. You can tell your iPhone to “turn on the lamp,” and it’ll do that, but saying the same thing to your watch like a true future-dweller will get you a Handoff prompt.
The iHome Control iOS app works well enough, but during my review process, I kept getting annoying prompts to install a firmware update, and I could never get it to go away. Hopefully, that’s a temporary problem.
Although the iHome ISP5 SmartPlug itself works just fine, it’s hard to get excited about this gadget. People with a lot of rooms and appliances that meet the basic requirements might get make good use of the thing, but in my experience, it’s just a really cool way to turn on a light.