The Apple Watch and Home Automation: On considering a watch app for Switch Control

May 2015 ยท 3 minute read
Apple Watch

Apple Watch

Ever since Apple announced the Apple Watch, I’ve been thinking about what this device could do for home automation. Most of it is in the realm of being technically possible (like detecting when I’m in the room) even if it might not be possible just yet. To say the least, that thought has excited me for how the future (MY future) might look like. And as I’m also selling a third-party app for a home automation system, I started thinking about how I could integrate my Apple Watch (yes, I knew I’d get one the moment Apple announced it) into my home automation workflow and how a Watch app for Switch Control might look like.

And this is where everything started to crumble. So far, I haven’t been able to come up with a way to do it. For the most part, this is neither Apple’s fault, nor some kind of design flaw of the Apple Watch. It has more to do with the way you use the Apple Watch, and with the way the home automation system I use handles things. To be brutally honest, their API (if you can call it that) is complete and utter crap. It’s a giant piece of XML/SOAP shit. Way too complicated for what it’s supposed to do and slooooooooowww. I mean, “lets get a coffee while this thing is still loading” slow!

Based upon my experience with the Apple Watch so far (after a week of using it), it’s biggest strength is in the convenience of having a device right on your wrist that allows you to do short tasks right where you are. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to interact with your watch for longer than 15s to get the information you wanted or to execute whatever task you set out to do. Any longer than that and your arm might get tired or it just might be more convenient to pull out your phone.

Given that it takes (on average) at least a minute to log into my home automation system, this just doesn’t seem to be feasible. Nobody is going to wait a minute (with their arm raised) for the Apple Watch to be ready, so they can turn off the lights in their living room. That’s not what I’d call convenient. Even if I tried to cache as much information as possible, shaving off a few seconds, it wouldn’t matter in the grand schema of the whole login process. Communicating with the central control unit of the system just takes too much damn time (and is really unreliable)!

There are other issues, but those can all be solved somehow. For example, there is a fundamental information density issue. The Watch really can’t show the amount of information the system is able to provide. This was hard enough to do on an iPhone but is nearly impossible on an Apple Watch.

So that’s where I am right now. I have this new, shiny and really awesome Apple Watch on my wrist. I really want to use it to control my home, but I can’t.

Maybe, one day, I’ll find a way. Let me know, if you have any suggestions.