The world of home automation has exploded in recent years, primarily fuelled by many big players in the tech industry, throwing their hats into the ring. Two of the most notable names in that industry are undoubtedly Google and Apple, and they both have offerings in the form of Google Nest and Apple Home/HomeKit.
One of the most significant downsides to buying into a particular ecosystem is “walled gardens”, which is a term used to describe one range of products—be it software or hardware—being incompatible with another. Apple, in particular, has been notorious over the years for not playing nicely with other platforms. But with the wide range of home automation products available from several different manufacturers, this is one market where it pays to be open.
Google’s Nest is an industry-leading product. Intuitive design, reliable results, and significant savings over traditional thermostats, it has it all. Meanwhile, the slick useability of any Apple device makes them desirable for use around the home, so it makes sense that many people opt to use their home automation products. After all, former Apple boss, Steve Jobs, once said he wanted Apple products to be as simple to use as any other household appliance. But is Google Nest compatible with HomeKit? Well, yes. Kind of.
Integration between Nest and Home is not frictionless, but it is possible. This was done in the past using HomeBridge, a solution that involved having a server continually running in your home. Granted, that server could be something small and inexpensive—like a Raspberry Pi Zero that costs as little as $5 and runs off of a 5V USB cable—but it still required some involved setup, and a place you could leave it running all of the time. In short, it was a solution, but not an elegant one. Now, on the other hand, we have our smart solution in the form of Starling Home Hub. But we’ll get to Starling in a moment.
What is Home Automation
If you’re here because you have heard about the wonders of home automation but don’t fully understand what it is, here’s a little background for you.
Home automation is the process of replacing certain controls in your home (or business) with smart devices or devices that can be controlled by a smart hub. A basic example of this would be a light switch. Smart light switches still allow you to control the attached light the old fashioned way, but also via your home automation hub. This means the lights can be controlled remotely, either by automated timers or by you, sitting in the other room on your phone and feeling a little too comfortable to get up and do it by hand.
More complex examples of home automation software include smart thermostats for controlling your environmental devices, such as heating, and air conditioning. Once again, these devices allow you to manage your heating remotely but also allow for much smarter automated controls. Rather than having a simple timer that turns your heating off, a smart thermostat—like the Google Nest—can factor in whether anybody is home, and analyse your habits to make the most efficient use of your heating.
Perhaps the most popular examples of home automation devices are smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Echo. Among the many functions these devices can serve, they allow you to control your various home automation devices via natural voice commands.
All of these devices come together to make for a more efficient, more convenient home. They not only make it easier to turn your lights on and off, but they can save you money on your utility bills.
What is Google Nest?
Originally, Nest was a company in its own right that developed a range of home automation devices around their flagship Nest Thermostat. The Nest Thermostat is a sleek, intuitive device that allows you to control your various heating and cooling appliances, while also applying smart logic to your usage. This means Nest can analyse things like when you are typically home, what temperature you like your rooms to be, even seasonal differences, and combine all of this information to come up with the most efficient use of your heating. The net result of all this analysis is that you save money on your utility bills because your heating is not running when it doesn’t need to be.
Nest has since been bought by Google and incorporated into their Internet of Things portfolio. Now, “Google Nest” refers to Google’s full range of home automation devices, in much the same way that Apple Home refers to theirs. These devices include the thermostat mentioned above, security cameras, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, smart speakers, and more.
What is HomeKit?
HomeKit is an API (application programming interface) that allows home automation devices to work with iOS without the need to create a slew of individual apps for each one. Apple’s Home app is built-in to iOS, offering seamless integration across your portable Apple devices, and HomeKit allows you to bring your various devices into that seamless environment.
We mentioned Homebridge earlier, which has been the only solution for getting Google Nest and Apple HomeKit to play nice for some time now. Homebridge allows you to integrate any home automation devices that do not support Apple’s HomeKit protocol, including Google Nest.
As mentioned, it does involve setting up a server. Now, this process is not nearly as scary as it might first seem to people who are not tech-savvy, but it is, nevertheless, an involved process. And, of course, it involves leaving your server running all the time. If you decide to go down this route, we strongly suggest you get a small, dedicated device to act as your server, such as a Raspberry Pi. You can use a regular computer, of course, but full computers are bulky, and rarely silent. Not to mention the power usage of a full computer would be considerably higher than something like a Raspberry Pi.
For those interested in the technical side of things, Homebridge is powered by Node.js, which means it is both lightweight and relatively easy to develop for, should you want to make changes.
Starling Home Hub
Starling Home Hub is a new product that is designed specifically to make the integration between Google Nest and Apple Home as painless as possible. It comes in the form of a small, lightweight device that connects to both your Google Nest and Apple Home services, and takes care of the necessary interfacing for you. Setup involves little more than signing into the two services.
There are no subscription fees for Starling, and the device is small and low power enough to be easily stashed out of the way. Like Homebridge, it does need to be running all the time, but you don’t need to take care of any of the technical setup that you would with Homebridge.
One of the downsides to Starling is there is no WiFi functionality. This means you will have to connect your Starling Home Hub to your home network via ethernet cable, which will limit the number of locations it can live.
Of course, Starling Home Hub is not as intuitive and frictionless as having HomeKit compatible devices to begin with, but Google Nest offer some very compelling products—not least of which is the Nest Thermostat we mentioned earlier. It is perfectly understandable to want to make use of both systems, and Starling Home Hub is by far the best solution presently available for doing just that. And, with new updates being regularly rolled out, Starling looks set to be in it for the long haul.
Is Google Nest Compatible with HomeKit—Summing Up
Unfortunately, there is no way to make Google Nest and Apple HomeKit play nicely with each other without the use of additional hardware and software. Whether that will change in the fullness of time remains to be seen, but, for now, this is the lot of people who want to make use of both systems.
On the other hand, it is possible to bring these two home automation systems together, and, thanks to Starling Home Hub, it is easier than ever. If this still feels like too much work, however, there are always HomeKit compatible alternatives to Google Nest. For example, while the Google Nest Thermostat is widely considered to be the best of the best in smart thermostats, the Ecobee Smart Thermostat has been making serious waves in the home automation world, and is an excellent alternative to the Nest Thermostat. And, of course, there is also the option to go with a different hub. Both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are compatible with more devices than HomeKit. But we understand why people already in the Apple ecosystem would want to stick with Apple here, too.
Whatever method you choose, one thing is for sure; home automation is here to stay. From smart thermostats to digital assistants, from interconnected security systems to intelligent door locks. The range of devices that are available for your home automation network is growing every year, and the scope of what can be achieved with these systems is increasing with every new device and every update.