Wallflower, a beautiful HomeKit iOS App from developer Nxtbgthng is hitting the App Store today. The App, which was designed for wall mounted iPads, is a novel take on an idea that has long been ingrained in smart home culture for years, the home command center. This concept has thus far eluded HomeKit, with competitors from Amazon and Google already been established allowing users to quickly glance and seeing the status of their devices around there home. Wallflower attempts to fill in this void by targeting something that many HomeKit users may already have, an older iOS device which may be just sitting around in a drawer.
The Wallflower App, which is free to download (more on this later) from the App Store, supports iOS devices all the way back to iOS 9. Even though iPads are the primary target, the App also support iPhones, and with the focus on supporting “legacy” devices, even the iPhone 4S, which was released in 2011 are supported. We have been testing the App for the past week on a base model 2018 iPad, and we can certainly see the value of having an always on, ambient, device that is the goto for HomeKit information.
Once installed, the Wallflower App will run through a series of on-boarding screens designed to explain a few of the features provided by the iPad. One such feature is the ability to use your device’s built in camera to automatically adjust the screen brightness based on whether or someone is close by. The camera function also enables the ability for the App to adjust itself based on the level of light in the room that it is placed in. Of course, Nxtbgthng is well aware of the privacy concerns that consumers may have, especially due to the slew of issues that have been unearthed over the past couple of years, and promises that no images are ever saved or sent. The developer has also stated that the App “respects your privacy” but not having any invasive third party frameworks or trackers. This mentality is refreshing to see, although the potential for things to change is there, and with the App be deployed on a device in high traffic areas, some level of comfort is required.
After assigning a room that the App will be set up in, the home screen will be shown and the App is ready for positioning within your home. On the home screen, there are several elements at play, such as a large analog clock on the left, and the HomeKit information for the room on the right. The analog is minimal in design, and looks great as an ambient piece, although its useful for actually telling what time it is all depends on how far you are away from it. In this initial release, the analog clock is required to be displayed at all times, but the developer has indicated a desire to allow it to be replaced with other data sources in future releases.
Next to the analog clock is the “meat” of the App, which is HomeKit information. This data includes displaying the name of the room that the App is set for, along with visual indicators of devices that are actively in use. Long pressing on a device icon will display relevant sliders or toggles that mimic what you would see in the native iOS Home App. Active scenes are also displayed, which is nice as an indicator of the status of a room, but can be somewhat awkward to see if you have a scene that is designed to turn off stuff. In our case, this meant that our “Lamps Off” scene could be seen under “active scenes” which is technically correct, but is somewhat strange to see. Other rooms can be shown on the home screen, with a simple swipe gesture, or by tapping on the “house” icon. Since the App was designed to display the information for the room it is assigned to, it will automatically switch back to this room after a period of inactivity, which is a thoughtful touch.
Located near the bottom of home screen are graphs that provide a visual as to how things such as temperature have trended over time. Since the App is designed to be on 24/7, this graph will take some time to fill in. Finally, at the top right corner of the home screen is an area designed to relay important status updates in your home. Things such as the battery levels of your HomeKit devices are displayed, as well as actual status of the device that the App is running on. This area is customizable to only display the “issues” that you care about.
Diving into the aforementioned settings area, accessible via tapping on an “gear” icon near the top left hand side of the home screen brings up a plethora of options. However, before getting into these settings, the App requires the owner of the device to authenticate themselves via TouchID or FaceID, which is yet another small but thoughtful touch. Features such as the camera detection functions can be toggled on or off, and additional information about the HomeKit devices can be seen. An option for changing the overall visual theme of the App is also available, which has 4 distinct styles. The default black and orange scheme, “Wetarbeit” is easily our favorite, as we found the other themes a little overbearing with their usage of bright colors, such as blue and yellow, which takes away from the simple, yet beautiful nature of the App.
One final thing to note is that the App supports both landscape and portrait modes, which adds flexibility with the types of charging docks that your device utilizes. There are many different mount and dock options on the market, and the model of the device being used will dictate the form factor. For a wall based mount, Nxtbgthng recommends an option called Power Pads, which is a frameless solution that does not require any drilling into the walls of your home. For a table top dock, we recommend going with either the LogiBase for iPad’s that have a smart connector, or Belkin’s Charge & Sync Dock for the lightning connection.
Of course the big question on everyone’s minds is just how useful is the App when mounted on a wall or situated on a stand in a room. In our case, we tested several locations, one being in a living room, about 10 foot away from our seating area. From this distance, we could see the information presented, but we struggled with actually making out some metrics such as current temperature. Your mileage may vary at this distance, and depending on your device, but we would certainly like the ability to adjust the size, especially for smaller devices. Once we moved our iPad to our office desk, next to our Mac, we really saw the appeal of having an always on device. Being able to quickly glance over to see the status of the room allowed us to keep the focus on the content on our Mac.
When it is all said and done, we are pleased with Wallflower’s utility when in the right setting, and we look forward to seeing what the developer has in store for future versions. The App, while free to download, requires a subscription to actually be used, which currently is listed at $47.99 a year. While some may scoff at this pricing model, we applaud Nxtbgthng for taking a route that allows them to have a secure source of funding, and for not taking the easy data collection/sharing route. The developer has hinted that having an ambient computing device can offer “more than home control”, and will be introducing “extensions” to broaden the Apps capabilities over time. Using an iPad on a wall has seemingly caught on lately, with multiple posts on reddit showing off their set ups being seen over the last few months, so we hope that the developer is able to find its market, as we are definitely keen to see just what else is in store.