Home Assistant has long been a powerful force amongst smart home aficionados, but it is sometimes criticised for being too complicated for the “average Joe” due to the product’s heavy reliance on code (YAML) for its configurations. However, over the past year or so, the developers of Home Assistant began moving a lot of this configuration to the web UI in an effort to greatly simplify the system – for all users. Thanks to this effort, tasks which used to be technically demanding can now be accomplished with the click of a few buttons.
Today, Home Assistant has reached a significant milestone in user-friendliness, and it’s only getting better. Combine this with an ever-growing list of supported smart home platforms, advanced automation tools, blazing fast performance and a rapid development lifecycle, it can arguably rival the features and capabilities of any commercially available product in this space.
In this article, we want to highlight some of the reasons why we think Home Assistant is such a fantastic product, and discuss some of the unique features it brings to the modern smart home…
Your Local Assistant
- Performance. Home Assistant is fast. Really fast. When you send a command to turn on a light (for example) Home Assistant can communicate directly with your light switch over your local network. The command doesn’t need to be routed through some cloud server on the other side of the world, so there’s no latency.
- Master of your domain. Home Assistant puts you in complete control of what your smart home can access, when and by whom. When a smart home hub or controller runs locally, there’s no dependency on the availability of remote services, or what features those service owners want you to use. This means, you’re not limited in what you can do with your devices and automations. Also, if your internet stops working, or when your favourite smart home service provider suddenly goes out of business – as we’ve seen far too often – your system will keep on truckin’.
- Privacy. Home Assistant is especially focused on preserving your privacy. All your personal data and all your configuration is stored locally. Everything. No 3rd parties involved at all!
- Security. Zero dependency on the internet also means fewer potential security vulnerabilities and attacks from the outside world. Home Assistant also ships with multi-factor authentication, user access controls and assignable access tokens, to optionally strengthen your system’s security even further.
“But, wait.... what if I want remote access or use a cloud-only integration?”
At the end of last year, Home Assistant took all of this one step further with Blueprints. Basically, a Blueprint is a pre-created automation with user-definable options. This makes it possible to reduce the complexity of creating a new automation, down to simply choosing the devices you want it to act upon.
For example, a light-based motion Blueprint would simply ask the user to select an available sensor to trigger the automation, and the light(s) to be controlled. You don’t need to know anything about the underlying logic. It’s an incredible new feature and the first of its kind.
Blueprints are shared through a dedicated Blueprint Exchange and you can search and download them to your Home Assistant instance for free.
Web UI and Customisable Dashboards
The default dashboard, where all your integrations and devices appear, is called Lovelace, and is generated automatically as new elements (or entities) are added to your system. They are laid out logically based on assigned areas (a.k.a. rooms) or by type.
If you want to take things even further, there’s HACS (Home Assistant Community Store) which lets you install custom integrations, UI widgets, themes and more; all developed and made available free, by the Home Assistant community.
Another unique feature here is that these apps can report all manner of device sensor readings back to Home Assistant, enabling you to use these in your automations. For example, you might create a “bed time” scene that’s triggered when your phone’s “do not disturb” setting is enabled. Way cool.
You don’t need to know how to write code, but you may occasionally need to copy and paste or edit some existing code snippets to setup certain integrations, or to control a special device. Most of the time though, everything you need to do can be accomplished without this.
There are also countless resources on the Internet ready to lend a hand if you get stuck. This is another advantage of using a system that’s developed and loved by a massive world-wide community.
Sounds Amazing… What’s The Catch?
Naturally, nothing is perfect. For Home Assistant, this is almost the point!
Home Assistant is an ever-evolving product. It needs to be so it can keep up with the rapid changes we’re seeing in the smart home industry. For this reason, it will never be a finished product and for some people, this can be a difficult concept to wrap their heads around.
Some concepts and terminology used within Home Assistant may seem foreign at first, even if you’ve used home automation software before, but once you become more familiar with it, you’ll appreciate why certain design decisions have been made and the benefits they provide.
We think there’s good reason so many people are talking about Home Assistant and we'd encourage anyone who is serious about home automation to take a look at it for themselves.
In the meantime, happy automating!