HomeKit’s ecosystem has been growing, and we are seeing more and more products launch. While the vast majority of accessories may be light bulbs and outlets, we are seeing other niche products starting to get support. Soma is one of the first to bring window blinds and shades to Apple’s smart home platform.
I tried out Soma’s smart shades for the past few weeks, and while I left impressed with how well they worked, I found them to be a bit expensive just for a single window.
To see how they work for yourself, check out my hands-on video.
There are two distinct pieces of hardware required to support HomeKit. You need the actual device that goes next to your window, and you need the Connect, which is what allows you to control them with different smart home platforms such as HomeKit, and Amazon’s Alexa. In your home, you need one Connect which can control up to 10 different shades.
I found the Connect to be a bit odd as opened it up.
It had all sorts of ports like USB and HDMI. Turns out, they simply covered a Raspberry Pi module. This is actually a smart idea for a startup, as they don’t need to create an entirely new piece of hardware, while they can just write the software and flash the memory on the Pi instead. As a first generation product, this definitely works. Though it may confuse some people as to why there are so many superfluous ports when you solely need power and Ethernet.
To install, literally just plug in to your router and an outlet, and you are all set.
The smart shade
The smart shade module has a few different parts to it. You’ve got the actual motor, a USB power cable, and a solar panel.
I found the solar panel to be a great idea. Instead of worrying about a power adapter, you can adhere the solar panel in the top portion of your window (often hidden by the blinds), and it will charge the internal lithium battery inside the motor. It is completely self sustaining, and lets you just forget about it.
Installing the motor was pretty painless. The Smart Shades app walks you through the process, though mine got stuck once during the installation. Nothing a simple restart didn’t take care of however.
The setup involves mounting the motor, and feeding the beads into the gear. Then calibrating it for the open and closed state of your blinds or shades.
Once complete, you can then control it from the Smart Shades app. As long as the Connect is installed, you can then go to Apple’s Home app to add to your HomeKit setup.
Which blinds it will work with?
The most burning question many will have is whether or not it will work with their blinds or shades.
The basic requirement is that you have horizontal blinds, that way less than 5 kg ( ~11 lbs), and have an endless loop of beaded chain.
While it is hard to determine if your beads work with 100% certainty, as long as they meet that criteria, they most likely will. They do say that if they are more than 7 feet wide, and 7 feet tall, you may have difficulty.
Let’s use them
In use, they work pretty much as expected. You can choose how much to open them, as well as schedule them. It is particularly fun to automate them to open and close with the sunrise and sunset.
Security-minded people also may be interested in controlling them while they are away, giving the appearance that someone is still home.
As far as safety is concerned, there is a built-in safeguard against something getting caught in the blinds, or your blinds getting damaged. If it detects abnormal weight, it will shut off. This is crucial for households with pets or small children.
Now, it isn’t all wonderful news. My girlfriend’s first question was “Do I have to wait this long every time I want to open them? I could have done it 5 times by now myself!” This is a fair criticism. The speed is for sure on the slow side. If you needed to open them in a hurry for whatever reason, you’d be out of luck.
Currently, there is no way to manually operate the blinds. That said, Soma has confirmed it is working on adding this feature in the future.
The wrap up show
While I am an unabashed fan of smart homes, I always feel that things need to have utility and purpose to a home. Otherwise, it is just an unnecessary annoyance. If you don’t like using your phone, I can see where the Soma Smart Shades fall into the latter.
In my home, I quite like them. I never seem to get around to opening the blinds, or closing them at night, and being able to automate that process has let so much more natural light into my home. When we hop out of town for a weekend I also like to be sure that the shades get closed so no one goes looking inside. Thankfully, using my Apple TV as a hub, I’m able to close them if I ever forget.
The biggest downside to the shades, is the price. If you are looking at a single bedroom window, the price is a bit high as you need both the motorized device, and the Connect. If you are looking at automating your house, or even just the downstairs, the price becomes a bit more reasonable. There are discounts for picking up more than one, and the price of the connect is split amongst each window. Making the cost per blind lower.
There are very few options for HomeKit-enabled blinds at the moment, so early adopters often have to pay for that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the price come down, as we have seen for many other smart home and HomeKit products.
If however, you love the idea of all your blinds opening each morning with the sunrise and closing with the sunset, you can pickup a single set of Soma Smart Shades (and a free solar panel) for $129 from Soma Smart Home’s website.
You can save a bit more if you pick up a two-pack, or three-pack ($198 and $297). The Connect, which adds the HomeKit and Alexa support, is $99.
Now, the Connect is currently up for preorder, and as such is not part of Apple’s official MFi program. They are currently working with Apple to add official HomeKit support through a firmware update for any early adopters that may receive it.
Let me know what you think of the Soma Smart Shades, down below in the comments. Do you think they are too expensive? Will you be picking up a few sets?