HomeKit Insider #002: How to troubleshoot Bluetooth accessories with HomeScan

Posted:
in iPhone edited May 21
Nailing down issues with HomeKit gear can be very difficult without the right tools. AppleInsider tales a look at a way to troubleshoot problems with Bluetooth accessories.





HomeKit Insider is a new series that focuses on different tips and tricks for growing Apple's smart home platform.

HomeKit devices use one of two means to connect, either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Bluetooth can be the more problematic of the two as there is a clear limitation on range compared to Wi-Fi which works from anywhere in your home. As your HomeKit collection grows, it can be difficult to troubleshoot issues that pop up.




To help with these issues that arise, we're going to use a new app that just launched on the App Store -- HomeScan.

HomeScan

In its simplest form, HomeScan shows nothing more than the signal strength of every Bluetooth device connected to your phone. Developer Aaron Pearce has added plenty of niceties that make it extremely handy for placing and troubleshooting your Bluetooth HomeKit accessories.




When the app is launched, it will display the live signal strength for all Bluetooth signals in relation to your device. It can be a bit intimidating at first, as the list contains literally all devices, including non-HomeKit devices, and even several that simply show up as "unnamed".

A little filter icon in the top right corner allows you to go between all devices or solely HomeKit devices. For us, many devices that were HomeKit devices were not designated as such. Pearce says that is because some devices simply don't have a name, so you are left on your own in discerning what they are.

Pro tip: We discovered which devices of ours were "unnamed" by moving near, then away, from different Bluetooth devices, watching for the signal pattern to mirror our movements.

Once a device is selected, say our Eve Energy, we can view full screen the current signal strength. It also gives us the peak and average signal strength. An edit button located to the top right is where a device name can be changed, or it can be marked as a HomeKit device. On the bottom left, a graph icon opens up a graphical interface showing a waveform of the signal strength. Lastly, a speaker icon on the bottom right turns on/off the voice prompts.

Aside from HomeKit gear, this can be used to troubleshoot and check the signal on any other Bluetooth devices lying around.

Troubleshooting Bluetooth HomeKit accessories




Since this is HomeKit Insider we want to focus particularly on how this can be used in relation to your smart home.

If some Bluetooth HomeKit devices don't always respond, or you want to know how far away you can place devices before you need an additional Home Hub.

Before we start measuring and working on placement, we need to know what the Bluetooth signal numbers mean. The closer a value is to 0, the stronger the signal is. 0 to -60 is the optimal signal strength for HomeKit accessories. -61 to -70 is in the OK range, while -71 to -90 is poor. Anything past -90 is bad and unreliable. The stronger the signal, the more reliably the devices will perform.

We also need to know which devices are acting as our Home Hubs. These can be found by launching the Home app and tapping the compass icon in the top left corner. Devices that can act as Home Hubs includes Apple TVs, HomePods, and even iPads running the latest iOS.




To start troubleshooting, we open HomeScan and place our iPhone directly on top of our Home Hub. We then choose our device we want to test from the list, will show a live value of the signal strength. As we start adjusting the placement, we open HomeScan on our Apple Watch. The Apple Watch app gives us a live reading of the selected accessory from wherever we are directly on our wrist. These values will change as we fine-tune the placement of our accessories. A slight change in an accessory's location can all the sudden boost the signal strength considerably, and reduce latency or command failures.

If you don't have an Apple Watch, no big deal. There is an audio option that can be enabled where your iPhone will read the values to you automatically, no watch necessary.

The live graph can also be helpful to gauge trends and see how signal strength is adjusting over time. When trying to choose placement, remember, It isn't always just distance that causes the issues. There can be constant interference from other devices or walls/objects that are blocking the path.

Keep connected




It is certainly true that Wi-Fi based accessories can be more reliable than Bluetooth, and you often don't have to dive into such in-depth troubleshooting. However, they are much more power hungry and can carry a higher price tag than their BLE brethren.

HomeScan is available now on the App Store for $0.99.

If you haven't already, check out our inaugural HomeKit Insider where we tackled a common issue plaguing HomeKit cameras.

Be sure to stay tuned to AppleInsider for our next installment in the HomeKit Insider series. If you've any HomeKit questions or ideas, please reach out to me on Twitter @Andrew_OSU.
Danehardin

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    nunzynunzy Posts: 320member
    How much data does this collect? How much do they phone home? Remember: you are their product.
  • Reply 2 of 11
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,645member
    Has anybody ever heard a reason why HomeKit cannot use an ATV3 as a hub, as was originally proclaimed?
  • Reply 3 of 11
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 2,682administrator
    mike1 said:
    Has anybody ever heard a reason why HomeKit cannot use an ATV3 as a hub, as was originally proclaimed?
    It can, to an extent. The third generation Apple TV can be used as a HomeKit hub, but it won't be able to be used to remotely access HomeKit cameras, change user permissions, or create automations from the device.

  • Reply 4 of 11
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 126member, editor
    nunzy said:
    How much data does this collect? How much do they phone home? Remember: you are their product.
    Nothing. This app collects and transmits no data. In this case, you aren't their product. You are paying $.99 for the product, no strings attached.
    nunzyaaron_pearceGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 5 of 11
    FolioFolio Posts: 258member
    Look forward to this new series. Does anyone know Could this app detect an Apple Pencil? If so, that sure would be a big plus for me.
  • Reply 6 of 11
    aaron_pearceaaron_pearce Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    Folio said:
    Look forward to this new series. Does anyone know Could this app detect an Apple Pencil? If so, that sure would be a big plus for me.
    Developer here, just checked with my Apple Pencil, yes, it does find it and show signal strength.
  • Reply 7 of 11
    aaron_pearceaaron_pearce Posts: 3unconfirmed, member

    nunzy said:
    How much data does this collect? How much do they phone home? Remember: you are their product.
    Developer here. HomeScan doesn't collect and transmit data beyond some basic analytics to track some user metrics, nothing related to your HomeKit data is ever sent off device. I charge for my apps so you, the user, are never the product. 
    Andrew_OSUMacProGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 8 of 11
    semi_guysemi_guy Posts: 48member
    There are many other tools that are free. For example, search for LightBlue, Bluetooth scanner, etc.
    edited May 22
  • Reply 9 of 11
    aaron_pearceaaron_pearce Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    semi_guy said:
    There are many other tools that are free. For example, search for LightBlue, Bluetooth scanner, etc.
    As with anything, yes. But are you the product then? 

    I think I bring enough value for the low price of $0.99 compared to those free alternatives. A nice design, considerations around HomeKit etc.
  • Reply 10 of 11
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,289member
    semi_guy said:
    There are many other tools that are free. For example, search for LightBlue, Bluetooth scanner, etc.
    There is rarely anything that's 'free' these days when it comes to computers attached to the internet.  Somewhere along the line there is a revenue stream.  If it's not an in app purchase I'd beware. 
    edited May 22
  • Reply 11 of 11
    Good video, good to know stuff, although I never had any problem connecting bluetooth devices to my iPhones, iPads, iMacs, AppleTVs, etc.  Now if only Samsung had a downloadable app to trouble shoot bluetooth on my bedroom TV.  I have 5 neighbor houses surrounding me between 25-50 yards from my bedroom.  One of them, not sure which, has a ZVOX sound bar that wants to connect to my TV all the time, yet my bluetooth wireless Beats headphones that are 6 feet from my TV routinely refuse to connect to it, often requiring me to reboot and/or un plug the TV.  I had a pair of Sony bluetooth headphones that I destroyed out of frustration over the connection issues. Whats worse is even when my Beats are connected, if my neighbor's sound bar is on, my TV will interrupt my viewing to constantly ask if I want to connect to the sound bar instead.  No way to "remove" it from consideration.

    Sorry to hijack the conversation, but bluetooth is still a bitch, and the video is good since there are some that have problems with their Apple devices, but for me, they are the only ones that work.
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