Smart homes are awesome, there are even podcasts that talk about them. They do anything from automating things around the home, to keeping people safe, and almost anything one could think of in between. In late 2018, I started down the HomeKit path.
I noticed very quickly though, that I couldn’t reach any of my Home-kit devices when I wasn’t home; the joys of using NAT (network address translation).
I then read that one had to have a HomeKit hub; either the original HomePod, an iPad, or an Apple TV. I did have an 2017 basic iPad, so set it up as a hub, and things were good, until I wanted to take the iPad with me somewhere.
The fact that I couldn’t use an old iPhone as a HomeKit hub annoyed me, there was no technical reason. Why did it have to be an iPad. Apple TVs were common in sighted households, but I have never owned a TV, I just didn’t want one. Some blind people listen to lots of TV shows, I’d just rather read a book. With over 70% of blind Americans under-employed according to the National Federation of the Blind, the original HomePod is way out of the price range of many. . The ableist bug was biting me again, the idea that periodically runs around in my mind, even if misconceived, that features were nonexistent in products based more on non-technical decisions, like price.
Even though I still don’t have or use a TV, I decided to get an Apple TV as a permanent HomeKit hub. To make this happen, I had to also buy an HDMI to audio breakout box, and a few cables. A friend came over with a monitor just long enough to make sure the Apple TV was up and running, I was able to get VoiceOver turned on, triple clicking the menu button during setup, that worked for about a year and a half. Kind of, I managed to crash VoiceOver at some point, and couldn’t get it back, but it still managed my HomeKit devices, so I just let it continue.
I was still annoyed, I had spent over $200 just for a HomeKit hub. I had said more than once to my friends, that I wished there was a smaller HomePod like a DeskPod, that would have been great. When the HomePod mini was announced, I was happy, and when it was available I ordered one immediately.
Finally, a usable and affordable HomeKit hub a blind person can enjoy. A nice speaker you can use with AirPlay two, at half the price of an Apple TV. VoiceOver works great on it with no hardware modifications like my Apple TV hack, it’s a considerable win. HomeKit users finally have an affordable hub option, sighted or not, and those who don’t have TVs aren’t forced to spend extra for it. Finally, the ability to check in on HomeKit devices away from home isn’t only for those with higher incomes. Does it still cost more than other smart speakers in its class, yes, frown; and no Bluetooth or auxiliary audio jack either, but I still am happy with it and recommend getting one.