Slowly but surely, Apple's been building a foundation for connected-home devices directly into its iOS mobile operating system. It's called HomeKit, and its goal is to standardize the smart home so that all of your gadgets work seamlessly with your phone, with Siri and with each other.
Launched this summer, the Insteon Hub Pro was one of the first HomeKit-compatible devices to hit the market. Essentially, it's the same thing as , which acts as a centralized brain for Insteon's wide range of connected home devices. Plug it into your router, and the Insteon Hub will translate those gadgets' proprietary Insteon signals into something your home network -- and thus, your smartphone -- can understand.
The Insteon Hub Pro adds in HomeKit support and tacks an extra 50 bucks onto the price, bringing it up to $150 (not yet available in the UK or Australia, it's about £99, AU$210, converted roughly). With HomeKit in the picture, you'll be able to put those Insteon devices under Siri's control, or control them alongside other HomeKit-compatible devices from different manufacturers. That makes the Insteon Hub Pro a pretty clear candidate to anchor HomeKit-oriented smart homes.
There are tradeoffs though -- most notably that the Hub Pro doesn't currently support the full catalogue of Insteon devices. It can bring Insteon's connected light bulbs, switches, and dimmers into the HomeKit fold, but key devices for keeping an eye on the home -- cameras, motion sensors, leak detectors, etc. -- aren't compatible yet. The arrival of iOS 9 , but as of now, the Hub Pro still can't put them to work, nor does it take advantage of HomeKit's new iCloud remote access in iOS 9, which eliminates the need for an Apple TV to access your devices when you're not at home. That all might change with a simple firmware update, but I wouldn't recommend buying in until it does.
HomeKit in a box
Insteon is a California based start-up that's been in business for a few decades now, so its platform is fairly well developed. Its devices communicate with one another using Insteon's proprietary dual-mesh signal, which combines a wireless radio frequency with your home's existing electrical wiring. The idea is that the second transmission layer serves as a backup in case of wireless interference in the first, making for a more reliable connection.
As for the "mesh" part, when a signal gets sent out over Insteon's network -- the hub telling a light bulb to turn on at sunset, for instance -- the signal gets transmitted through every device in the system, all of them acting as a sort of repeater for the network. That gives the system a scalability boost -- the more devices you add, the more robust the network becomes.
All of that applies to the Insteon Hub Pro, with the added benefit of HomeKit compatibility. Basically, what the Hub Pro does is add in specific security-minded hardware to comply with Apple's standards, and also software tweaks that help it manage devices in a way that fits in with HomeKit's bigger scheme. That brings Siri into play -- ask her to turn off a light bulb that's connected to the Insteon Hub Pro, and she'll get right on it. You can also use the the Hub Pro (and its corresponding Insteon+ iPhone app) to add and control other HomeKit-compatible devices side-by-side with your Insteon gear. And yes, as a HomeKit device, we're talking iOS control only. Sorry, Android users.
As for the hardware itself, the Hub Pro is simply a boxy rectangle of white plastic -- same as. It's a minimalist design that you'll likely plug into your router and forget about, though the shiny, white plastic aesthetic extends to much of Insteon's more visible gadgets, as well -- most notably its lamp dimming and appliance on/off plugs (sold separately). Similar to , the Insteon plugs are simple enough to use, but I don't like that the sockets are located on the bottom of each device -- that makes it tough to plug and unplug your lamps or appliances if the socket is in an inconvenient spot. For basic on/off management, I might be inclined to go with another HomeKit-compatible switch, like the or the , instead.
There are some key limitations to keep in mind before you buy in with the Hub Pro. Apple's been a bit slow to extend HomeKit support to things like motion sensors and leak detectors, and though you won't be able to connect any of Insteon's sensors with the Hub Pro., Insteon hasn't updated its firmware to take advantage of it yet. That means that, at least for the time being,
Unless Insteon finds a way to update the system or add new HomeKit-compatible hardware, you're limited to Insteon's switches, light bulbs, dimmers and other devices you turn on and turn off. That's probably a deal-breaker if you've already got a lot of other Insteon gear up and running in your home -- in that case, you should almost certainly stick with the existing Insteon Hub. Still, I would expect that we'll start seeing HomeKit-compatible sensor hardware from other manufacturers before the end of the year, and when those devices arrive, you should be able to add them under the Hub Pro's control.
Another limitation, at least in the short term, is that you can't access any of the Hub Pro's devices from beyond your home network unless you have an Apple TV in your home to act as a gatekeeper. That's one of HomeKit's original security features, and while iOS 9 lifts the restriction by moving the iCloud Keychain into that gatekeeper role, again, Insteon hasn't updated the firmware to take advantage yet.
I've reached out to Insteon to try and get a timetable for any potential updates, but haven't heard back yet. Watch this space -- I'll let you know when I hear more or if any notable updates arrive.