HomeKit light switch makes your smart lights dumb again


instant switch
Did you ever dream that you'd be able to switch on a light from a wall switch?
Photo: iDevices

As if HomeKit and other automated home appliances weren’t bad enough, now you can buy a HomeKit-enabled light switch. That’s right. Instead of just walking into a room and flipping the switch on the wall to turn on the lights, you can now walk into a room, flip a switch on the wall to turn on the lights, and also deal with firmware and connection issues for the rest of your life.

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Doomed to copy the past

In his book A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno summed up the current state of home automation up perfectly:

Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.

Now, the target of this retro-fetishism is the home appliance. Now that our HomeKit lightbulbs and thermostats can run your home by themselves, and we can shut down the entire house with a single command when we’re ready for bed, up pops the Instant Switch. It’s a Bluetooth light switch that sticks onto any surface and lets you switch stuff on an off. And let’s be realistic here. By “stuff” we mean lights.

Good for… what exactly?

So useful.
So useful.
Photo: iDevices

HomeKit and other home automation setups might be good for some things, but if all you want to do is turn on a light, then it’s hard to beat an old-fashioned wall switch. It’s always in the same place, it always works (unless the bulb blows or the power is out), and everyone knows how to use it. HomeKit, on the other hand, requires access to a connected device. You need to find your iPhone, unlock it, and then find the light switch section of the right app. If you have a HomePod, you have to talk to Siri and hope she understands.

The Instant Switch puts back this familiar functionality. Anyone can use it, even house guests. It stays stuck to the wall with its 3M Command Strip, so it’s always in the same spot. Only it’s worse, because it’s a poor digital copy of a perfect analog solution. First, it relies on a Bluetooth connection, which isn’t as reliable as a wire. It also requires at least one HomeKit-enabled lightbulb or light fitting, which is of course more expensive than a regular one. And it needs a battery. A battery! For a light switch! I weep for the future.

Not all bad

Now, there are some redeeming features. If everyone in your home is too short to reach the existing light switches, for instance, then you could deploy these in every room. You’d still need HomeKit lights, but that could be cheaper than a professional rewire. Also, you still get to use the other automated features of your HomeKit setup. Although, with a HomeKit bulb in a regular socket, the same applies — you can use a regular light switch to turn the light on and off.

So really, it doesn’t have many redeeming features. Still, it’ll sell, because us humans love to sell off our old gadgets and objects, and replace them with more complicated, less-reliable digital versions, and then spend a fortune on continual “upgrades” in order to get ever closer to the “analog” original’s flaws. Exhibit A: the LED lightbulb, which still doesn’t manage to produce as nice a light as an evacuated glass globe with a heated filament burning inside.


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