I'm basically lazy. If technology exists that lets me spend more time sitting on my butt, I'm all over it. I control my thermostat with an app, use Google Hangouts for virtual meetings, and don't remember the last time I walked to a mailbox—that's why God invented email.
Aside from the thermostat, I've yet to jump into the smart home craze. This is just another manifestation of my laziness. There's so much to learn. Do I have to buy one of those expensive Alexa things? What's a bridge and why do I need one? What's a smart bulb? Obviously it's not lighting up over my head. The research alone overwhelmed me. It seemed easier to live in a dumb home.
But as the horse and buggy succumbed to the automobile, and the typewriter succumbed to the personal computer, I knew my home would also succumb to voice control. It was just a matter of time.
Not really having any idea what I was doing, and not wanting to spend much money, I decided to start with a single smart plug. In the hopes that others will learn from my experience, here is my story.
Research and Resources
I thought perhaps AppleVis might already have helpful information, and I was not disappointed. Here's AppleVis's smart home blog from early 2018, which every potential smart home consumer should read. From this article, I learned I could buy a smart plug,
A smart plug is a wi-fi enabled outlet that plugs into an existing outlet and can be switched on and off remotely. Don't confuse it with a smart outlet. Smart outlets replace your existing outlets and should probably be installed by experienced electricians. I didn't feel like electrocuting myself, so I went with the smart plug.
Next, I found Hadley's podcast on digital assistants, part of their Tech It Out series. From this, I learned that I didn't need to buy Yet Another Device such as an Apple HomePod. I could use SIRI on my existing iPhone.
With this in mind, I decided to buy a smart plug to solve one simple problem. I use a desk lamp so friends can see me during video chat. I'd much rather turn it on with SIRI than reach across my desk (see laziness above). I'm going for a sort of 21st-century version of The Clapper.
Ordering on Amazon
Am I the only dinosaur left that uses Amazon through their web page instead of the Amazon app? I need another app on my iPhone like I need another hole in my head. I've already got so many unused or infrequently-used apps that I have to cram them into a folder called Unused Apps just so I can keep my home screen down to four pages.
So, yes, I'm still using Amazon through their web page, which hides their search field. To find it, use Safari to find the Go button form control, thenVO+right. This is especially confusing if you're low vision, because visually, it's to the left.
Once in the search field, I searched for "smart plug HomeKit", hoping to not get any Alexa-specific results. I may as well have wished for world peace. The first item in the search result? A smart plug that works only with Alexa.
Amazon makes navigating their search results pretty easy, including skipping past sponsored items (like that one). Amazon organizes search results as a Header per result item. By using VoiceOver's Header navigation, I quickly found the Wemo Mini smart plug, which does work with HomeKit.
Here's another thing Amazon did right. When I follow a search result item link, VoiceOver immediately starts reading the customer reviews, which is usually what I want to hear first.
Honestly, the Wemo's 3.7 out of 5 stars concerned me. Some of the harshest reviews mentioned serious wi-fi connection problems. I'm pretty good with home networking, so I decided to take a chance and order it anyway.
Apple's HomeKit Accessory list includes a Wemo Mini smart plug that looks identical, but Amazon's pre-Christmas prices were impossible to resist.
The Wemo Mini smart plug arrived in a branded box with no printed manual or guide.
According to Apple's documentation, connecting a HomeKit-enabled device should be as easy as launching the Home app on my iPhone and scanning the HomeKit barcode, either on the smart device or its packaging. The Home app refused to recognize the package's barcodes. I also tried scanning the device itself—again, no luck.
I have some remaining vision, so I was able to use the iPhone camera to get a close look at the barcodes. None of them consisted of 8 numeric digits. They were not HomeKit barcodes.
With no documentation included in the box, and no scannable barcodes, I was stumped. I had no idea how to use this device with the Home app.
That's When the Cat Puked
Just as I thought this task couldn't be more difficult, my cat began emitting the telltale sounds of imminent regurgitation. The mystery of the missing barcode would have to wait while I dealt with whatever spilled forth.
Cleaning up cat hork tops my list of hard things to do. If I act fast, I can use the unholy noises emanating from the cat's throat as a homing beacon to locate the puke. The problem is that I need to fetch cleaning supplies and return to the same spot, hopefully without stepping in it.
As a low vision cat owner, I use my pocket flashlight as a marker and lay it next to the vomit. It's bright enough for me to see when I return with paper towels. I'm not sure how I'll handle this when I'm total, though I imagine I could replace the flashlight with an audible source. Perhaps I'll tell SIRI to play Stray Cat Strut, then lay my iPhone next to the hairball while I fetch the cleaning supplies.
How do you clean up cat puke? Please post in the comments below.
The Wemo App
While cleaning up, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't the first person to have trouble scanning the Wemo Mini barcode. Maybe someone with the same problem had discussed it on an internet forum.
I did a web search for "How to connect Wemo Mini to HomeKit" and found this Wemo Community Forum topic that mentioned a Wemo app.
There's a Wemo app? That was news to me. I'm confused—why would someone design a HomeKit-compatible product that requires an additional app for HomeKit? But, with Wemo, download we must. I installed their app, certain it was destined for my Unused Apps folder as soon as the installation process was complete.
Once in the app, it turns out their connection process is nothing like Apple's. The app walked me through several steps, some quite convoluted.
The weirdest? The Wemo Mini smart plug broadcasts its own network during setup. One setup step had me open my iPhone's wi-fi Settings and connect to that network. A later step had me reconnect my phone to my home network. Crazy!
I found the setup accessible for the most part. Although the entire process seemed overly complicated compared to Apple's HomeKit barcode method, the app walked me through the steps in a logical and easy-to-follow manner.
In minutes, the app had identified my smart plug and let me name it "desk lamp". After plugging my lamp into the Wemo, I could turn it on and off with the Wemo app.
The Wemo app has an additional useful feature. Many people have security concerns regarding smart homes. The Wemo app lets you enable or disable remote access. When disabled, you must connect to your home network to control Wemo devices. This makes your smart home as secure as your home network.
I encountered only one accessibility issue with the Wemo app. Part of the setup process involved updating the smart plug firmware, and after I did this, VoiceOver stopped reading the Wemo app's text. Restarting VoiceOver didn't fix this. I had to kill the app in the task switcher and restart it. Thankfully, this didn't interfere with the setup process.
Connecting to HomeKit
Being able to turn my lamp on and off in the Wemo app was nice, but I really wanted to connect it to HomeKit and control it with SIRI.
In the Wemo app, go to the More tab, then find and select the Connect to our Smart Home Partners link. Find and select Apple HomeKit to start the brief process of connecting your Wemo smart plug to the Home app. It's all accessible, and once it's done, you're all set to use the plug from Home.
I thought I might have to set up a separate SIRI shortcut to control the smart plug. Nope! Connecting to the Home app immediately gave me SIRI control. "Turn on my desk lamp" and "Turn off my desk lamp" both worked as expected. Wow! This will put The Clapper out of business.
While having to install and interact with the Wemo app irritated me, once it was done, it all seemed quite easy.
I gave this product 4 stars on Amazon. Here's my review.
This is a great device, no connection problems, and the pre-Christmas price made it the cheapest smart plug around. A warning to Apple HomeKit users: You must install the Wemo app and use it to connect your smart plug and share it with Apple HomeKit. The plug comes with no documentation explaining this. This makes the setup much more complicated than simply scanning a barcode. Other than that, it's a fine product.
A Final Note
I was happy. My smart plug worked. But I still tossed and turned at night, unable to accept that their product shipped with no documentation. I shouldn't have had to search the web to discover the setup process.
Unable to sleep at 2AM, I used Seeing AI to read the outside of the box. It told me to go to Wemo's web page where I found information about using their app with HomeKit. If I'd done this first it would have saved a lot of time. Lesson learned! Read the box first!
I hope this blog helps other readers who, like me, were too lazy to even bother to learn about smart home technology.
While I'm a rank beginner in this area, I'm sure many readers know a lot more. Enlighten me! Tell me how you're using HomeKit in the comments below. This smart plug won't be my last smart device, and your input will guide the future development of my smart home.
I'm especially interested in hearing about a smart vacuum that can clean up cat puke.