A Follow Up To My Switch To The New HomeKit Architecture…. And A Tip In Terms Of Troubleshooting Bluetooth HomeKit Devices

At the end of March, I dove head first into upgrading to Apple’s new HomeKit Architecture. This originally rolled out before Christmas. And when it did it, it created so many issues for users that Apple pulled it and rolled it out again in late March. When I tried it, I had zero issues with it. But I also said this:

Now some people with larger HomeKit setups are noticing that everything is much faster now. But I haven’t seen that as I don’t have a huge amount of devices in my setup. However I did notice that accessing my HomeKit setup from my Apple Watch went from practically unusable to being fairly quick and responsive. Thus validating that this architecture was a success. Though I will need to do some additional testing on some of my location based scenes to make sure. Once I do that, I will update this story accordingly. But in short, I can say that nothing went wrong in terms of upgrading to the new HomeKit architecture.

Well, it took me a while to really test this new architecture. And I even tested an extra use case as well which I will get to in a minute. But I can safely say that if you have HomeKit devices on WiFi, you can safely say that accessing them will be a touch faster than what you are used to. This is true on Apple Watch, iPhone, and Mac.

Now to push the envelope further, I pulled this Onvis HomeKit Alarm system out of retirement to see how Bluetooth performance was. I had retired and replaced the Onvis system with this Aquara alarm system it due to the fact that the former would be slow to respond sometimes. Or it would simply not work at all and give me the dreaded “unresponsive” message in the Home app. I had always assumed that the Onvis alarm system was having issues due to the fact that Bluetooth based HomeKit devices, which this is one of them, have two key weaknesses:

  • Bluetooth devices have ranges of less than 30 feet at best
  • Bluetooth devices have signal strength issues in less than ideal conditions

Now the latter is certainly an issue in my environment as frequent readers will know that I live in a condo and I have all sorts of 2.4 GHz (Which is what Bluetooth uses) and 5 GHz wireless networks that I have to deal with. Which is why when I got the Onvis alarm, I got a HomePod Mini for the living room. Then I expanded this to a stereo pair. And that’s when my issues started. At the time I really didn’t put in a lot of effort into troubleshooting this. But when I did as part of doing testing of the new HomeKit architecture, I discovered what my actual issue was with this alarm. Taking one HomePod Mini out of the mix by completely removing it from HomeKit and having the remaining one remain less than 15 feet from the Onvis alarm system resolved all issues that I was seeing.

So does that mean that the stereo pair is the issue? Well, no. I still thought range was a factor in this as the other of the two HomePod Minis was sitting on a TV stand is which is as far as you can get from the door (as in about 25+ feet away), rather than the fact that they were a stereo pair being the cause. So in the interest of science, I added it back to HomeKit and put it closer to the door and recreated the stereo pair. And as you read this, everything has continued to work just fine.

The only thing that I can conclude is that what the Onvis alarm was doing is connecting randomly between both HomePods. If the alarm was lucky enough to hit the closest one, things would be slow to respond. If it connected to the one that was the furthest away, it would be “unresponsive”. Going further down the rabbit hole on this, I bought an app called HomeScan off the App Store which helps you to diagnose Bluetooth issues related to HomeKit by figuring out what the signal strength is so that you can figure out where to place your devices and home hubs for best performance. Using that I was able to determine that from the door to about six feet into our condo, the signal strength for the Onvis alarm is great. Past that it falls off a cliff quickly. The only thing that could cause that sort of fall off is an electrical source. And roughly six feet away from the door is the kitchen. And the location of the fridge is right where the Bluetooth signal from the Onvis alarm falls off a cliff.

Thus my conclusion is as follows:

  • The fridge hammers the signal from the alarm so much that unless the HomePod Mini units are close by, there’s no way for the Onvis alarm to function properly.
  • Since I know that this alarm system can’t see either of the other two HomePod Mini units that I have in the condo because they are too far away, the Onvis alarm system will bounce between the two HomePods that it can see in the living room. Which results in either slow performance. Or not being usable.

Thus my take home message is that when using Bluetooth devices. Placement of home hubs (HomePods or Apple TVs) and your devices is crucial.And taking any potential sources of interference is equally as crucial. Though Apple could make troubleshooting these sorts of issues a lot easier by having diagnostics built into HomeKit so that you can not only see signal strength of any device in your HomeKit setup, but see what specific home hub a specific device is connecting to. That would have made life so much easier in terms of figuring this out.

A secondary take home message is that by testing this in more detail, it showed me that Apple didn’t improve on how Bluetooth devices are handed in HomeKit with the new architecture as the core behaviour is not any different than before the architecture upgrade. I suspect that’s because Apple is going all in with Thread and Matter support which is reportedly more resilient than Bluetooth due to the fact that Thread and Matter devices create their own self healing network, while Bluetooth devices are point to point connections. Though I have yet to test that myself by putting Matter devices into my HomeKit setup. But the bottom line is that users of Bluetooth devices in HomeKit won’t see any improvements due to upgrading to the new architecture.

Have you noticed any other changes since upgrading to the new architecture? If you have, I would ask you to leave a comment so that I can test them out and share the results.

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