Beginners Guide: Get Smart with Your Smart Devices and Services, Apple Edition

Josh Norman
Josh NormanPrincipal / Chief Creative Officer
Get Smart with Your Smart Devices and Services, Apple Edition

With the caveat that the world is a mess and I’m ridiculously fortunate to have THIS as a blog post, I’ll say humbly that I’ve spent a lot of the last five months while working at home getting my digital life in order, one small bit at a time. 

Despite the flurry of smart devices and home hubs that have flooded the market over the past 5 years, we’re clearly still in the infancy of IOT, the “internet of things.” From toasters with touchscreens to washers and dryers that share their status with us, the Jetsons-like vision of home furnishings and appliances in the world is just now taking off, and they’re controlled and monitored by a host of hubs, apps, assistants, and ecosystems, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. And none of which play well together.

With more and more people cutting the cord and consuming media on connected devices, how consumers select and use devices has a huge impact on work our agency produces for clients and our media plans for getting their messages in front of as many targeted eyes as possible.

My Ecosystem of Choice

I’ve been an Apple nerd since the Mac Plus hit the scene, so it’s no surprise that Apple’s HomeKit is my smart-home ecosystem of choice. For the most part, “it just works,” though Siri isn’t the perfect personal assistant by any means. I’ve also tried my hand with two Google Nest Minis and found them to be far less cooperative, even just serving basic tasks as Bluetooth speakers with constant disconnections and setup headaches. Your mileage may vary.

So, with three Apple TVs, a stereo pair of HomePods, a couple Apple laptops, and multiple iPhones in the house, when our television died early in 2020, I set off to find a HomeKit compatible TV as a replacement. I wanted to finally take advantage of the convenience promised by the Home app that had been sitting largely unused on my iPhone, relegated to a folder named “Someday.” 

My Early Missteps

I tried to plan out my smart home adventure early on and got burned. It started with a Nest Thermostat, which I bought with the promise from Nest that they would enable Apple HomeKit compatibility soon. Alas, enter Google, which purchased Nest in 2014, and any hopes of HomeKit compatibility were permanently put on ice.

Same story with my video doorbell. We wanted to add one for increased security, and I selected a Ring Video Doorbell. Amazon gobbled up Ring in 2018, and immediately my doorbell married Alexa and left Siri standing at the altar.

There are iPhone-compatible apps to control these devices, and they work fine. But my dream of using a simple, unified app to control a slew of smart devices with just my voice was squashed. Sometimes, being an early adopter of technology can backfire.

Selecting a TV

LG’s partnership with Apple is lengthy as far as tech relationships go, and their current line of TVs are already HomeKit compatible. I wasn’t about to rely on promises of HomeKit compatibility; I wanted something that would work immediately. I also didn’t want to break the bank with an OLED TV, so I selected an LG NanoCell 4K LCD TV with HomeKit and Airplay 2 ready out-of the box.

Connecting the TV to the Home App

Getting the TV set up in the Home app was very straightforward. I simply opened a Home Dashboard card in the TV’s settings to reveal a pairing code, then opened the Home app on my iPhone, clicked the + symbol to add an accessory, and entered said code. I was prompted to enter a name for the TV, and I made Joey Tribbiani proud by naming it Stevie the TV.

With that, I could easily use Siri commands to turn Stevie the TV on and off. But, I was disappointed to find that using Siri to change inputs on the TV wasn’t supported. This is something I wanted to automate desperately, as our family is always switching between an HD antenna input, a Nintendo Switch, an Apple TV, and a Blu-Ray player, and we’re all sick of using a remote control, let alone hunting for it.

After some tinkering, I made my first smart home breakthrough when I discovered this IS possible, using Scenes in the Home app.

My Input-Dilemma Workaround

While you can’t set a command for Siri as simple as “Change to input 3,” you can set up Scenes in which Siri turns the TV on and sets a specified input.

I set up a handful of Scenes and named them with the command I wanted. My first Scene is named “Apple TV Time,” and settings for that scene include Stevie the TV in the “on” state, and the input set to “Apple TV.” My second Scene is “Game Time,” and settings for that scene include Stevie the TV in the “on” state, and the input set to “Switch.”

So, if Stevie the TV is off, I can say, “Hey Siri, Apple TV time.” The TV is turned on with the input set to our Apple TV. I can also say, “Hey Siri, game time,” and TV is turned on with the input set to our Nintendo Switch. The eureka moment for me came when I realized that if the TV is already on when I utter a command, Siri changes unmatched items to match my Scene. So, if the TV is on, and we’re watching our Apple TV, I can say, “Hey Siri, game time,” and all that happens is the input is changed to the one I want.

Anyone in the house can also just open the Home app and tap a scene without speaking, too. A great alternative if one of us loses our voice somehow.

My favorite Scene is “Good night,” which, if spoken, turns the TV and all connected devices off. Bedtime just got a whole lot easier.

I’m looking forward to adding other connected devices to my smart home setup. After a couple false starts, I’m finally seeing the value in the dream of a not-so-dumb home.

Bonus Tip for Apple Music Subscribers

I’m a music snob. And I’m not sorry. Until about three years ago, I really believed that music was something you should own, not rent or lease. And thus, I resisted any streaming music service altogether.

On a whim, I gave Apple Music a chance with a free trial. I was immediately hooked, first by the fact that all 1,618 albums in my music library immediately synced across every one of my devices so I had my entire music collection with me anywhere, anytime, and second by music discovery and recommendations from the service that were spot-on.

The recommendations were so great, in fact, that I began losing track of what artists and albums I had added to my library with the intention of revisiting later. The “Recently Added” section of my music library on the mobile version of Apple Music goes back only so far. So, how could I create a way to relatively painlessly see what artists and albums I had added from Apple Music? The Smart Playlist was and is my hero.

In the Apple Music desktop app, select File > New > Smart Playlist. A dialogue box prompts you to name the smart playlist and set parameters for what music is included in the playlist. In my case, I named it “Apple Music downloads” and set the following parameters:

I’m not a scrooge; I just didn’t want Christmas music I had added to my library for holiday gatherings to be part of my Apple Music Downloads mix. (I love you, Leroy Anderson, but if I ask Siri to shuffle my Apple Music Downloads playlist, I don’t want to hear “Sleigh Ride” in August.) Thus, I eliminated that genre and the name “Christmas” from this playlist, ensuring that it only contains music I’ve added to my library but haven’t downloaded to my device. Voila! Every artist, song, and album I’ve ever decided to add to my music library from Apple Music is in one playlist, which is automatically updated every time I add more music. I visit this playlist often to spend time with artists and music I’ve discovered on the service.

How have you set up your smart home or leveraged streaming services to suit how you like to consume media? Let us know in the comments below.