What’s New in Roomie Remote V6

TLDR Summary

  • V6 is a new $9.99 app with the original name Roomie Remote.
  • Switching apps ensures that the sweeping changes do not disrupt existing installs via autoupdate.
  • V5 subscriptions also license V6 at the same device level.
  • V6 eliminates Simple Hub, replaced with zero-setup iCloud synchronization.
  • HomeKit accessories no longer count against subscribed devices.
  • V6 includes many new features such as greatly improved Siri and Shortcuts support, playback of recorded Apple TV voice commands, and iOS 13 support including Dark Mode.

Background

V6 returns to the end-user path we started on in 2011 as well as our original name Roomie Remote. In late 2015, we adopted the name Simple Control for version 4 (the company name never changed.) New people led a push into the custom integrator market. We were created as a disruptive entity – a low-priced product with high-end functionality easy enough for most end-users to configure, and easy to obtain via the App Store. Our model didn’t match the custom integrator market that requires significant price margin to support an array of middle-people. It thrives on complexity which is the basis for consulting hours, and requires a multi-tier distribution network. While great things can come from that system, the model was incompatible with the DNA of Roomie even with great people with expertise in that area leading it.

Recognizing that path didn’t work precipitated a dramatic directional shift. Many major changes in the core of the product from the last 5 years have been re-architected in this release. Simple Hub is gone. The specific implementations of user accounts, centrally-managed access control, remote access, and many other features that did not apply to our DIY core market are gone. The software is much simpler for users. These dramatic changes meant it was impossible to release V6 as an autoupdate to V5 to ensure we didn’t obliterate perfectly functional installations. V6 is a paid upgrade. We were a paid app with subscription until 2015, and we’ve returned to that model with several improvements. Subscription pricing has been reduced, and by no longer counting HomeKit accessories the device count upward pressure was generally reduced as well.

The vision of V6 is “how would Roomie work today had we never diverted to the custom install market in 2015?” A key part of that is embracing Apple platforms as our exclusive platforms. This allows us the freedom to take full advantage of Apple’s tools. Every aspect of the software and business has been re-evaluated to determine where we should do more, and what didn’t work that should be eliminated.

Cloud Synchronization

Your Roomie installations now synchronize automatically via iCloud. There is nothing to setup, and no hub to maintain. Devices do not have to be online at the same time. It just works, better than ever. Configurations can be shared with others via iCloud. Synchronization works both locally and remotely even across multiple homes at the same time.

Subscriptions

We’re introducing a perpetual license option for the first time. If you prefer non-subscription purchases, we now offer an Unlimited Perpetual option for the life of this app. Historically, we have migrated to a new app to avoid obliterating user installations with sweeping changes (such as this release) every 5 years or so. This new app will be the only Roomie app for many years – possibly we won’t need to change again. Selecting the Unlimited Perpetual option enables you to use it as long as the app works on the hardware you’re using. Standard cadence increases our iOS requirement by one major version per year. This release requires iOS 12.4.

Simple Service subscriptions from V5 carry forward to this release at the same device level. If you have one, Restore Purchases in the old app to make sure the new app sees it. Simple Control V5 or Simple Control Home V4.5 must be installed on the same device to share a subscription from them. Start a new subscription in V6 before your next renewal so that you don’t need to keep the old app. Turn off Background App Refresh in Apple’s Settings app for the old app if you need to leave that app on your device to refresh a renewal.

Privacy

Privacy was a huge driving force for this release. In the past, some features required user configurations stored on our servers in an encrypted form. Whether it was Simple Service Backup, Remote Access, or others, we wanted to make sure that no aspect of a user configuration passed through us going forward. This release takes us completely out of the loop. Configurations are never sent to any of our servers in any form.

We also used to use a common crash report tracker called Crashlytics/Fabric. A year or so ago, it was bought by Google, so we didn’t feel comfortable continuing to use it. We now use only the built-in Apple analytics. While Apple’s crash reporting tools are slow usually taking at least a day to present crash reports whereas Crashlytics would notify us in seconds of unusual crash activity, we believe everyone is better off without Google trackers of this type and we will still get the data needed via the opt-in Apple services.

Major New Features

This release contains numerous new features including:

  • Cloud Synchronization: How to setup Simple Hub was a major issue for our users, and even when successful could be brittle. We are pleased to present this new architecture that is much simpler, faster, and better in every way. We now have multiple levels of synchronization resulting in by far the fastest and most reliable synchronization we’ve had. This has always been an area of specialization for us, and to be able to eliminate all of the complexity of Simple Hub while retaining the related functionality and improving upon it was a stretch goal that is clearly the highlight of this release.
  • macOS Platform Support: The entire app is being released for macOS 10.15 Catalina. Note that Apple has not yet implemented a few features in Catalina. Impacted features include: HomeKit, SiriKit, Sharing, Location, and 1Password integration. We anticipate Apple adding some of those in the future. In most cases, the downside is minimal. You can configure Siri Voice on iOS, there is almost no need to configure that on macOS. You can share configurations on iOS, and that works with macOS since it’s all cloud-based and Catalina does have Cloud Synchronization. Not being able to control HomeKit is a mysterious omission given that Apple felt the Home app was so important that it was part of Mojave, but presumably some technical problem prevented actual HomeKit support for Catalina. Despite the ‘Home’ app existing in Catalina, HomeKit itself is completely absent. That issue is 100% on Apple’s side and can be flipped on for us in seconds once Apple fixes it. Other than those caveats, it is a beautiful platform that we are excited to add. For A/V control, the lack of HomeKit is irrelevant so for most users we believe this release should meet their needs. Purchasing the base macOS app is separate from the iOS app, but subscriptions are shared. [Updated 11/25/19: The new macOS platform is now available in the Mac App Store.]
  • Apple TV Voice Command Playback: Automate launching apps and many other actions on Apple TV 4 using recorded voice commands. Just add the new .VOICE COMMAND and record a command in an Activity to playback when you start an Activity or from a button on your Action Panel.
  • Siri Shortcuts: Significant improvements were made by Apple to Siri Shortcuts, and we have added support for them. You may now add Activities and Commands with parameterized options in the Shortcuts app directly – even with no prior suggestions. Also, a huge step forward, it is no longer necessary to pre-record each Siri command you want to use. iOS 13 is required for these improvements.
  • Dark Mode: It looks awesome on OLED devices like the iPhone X.
  • PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S Controllers: The popular game controllers used by these systems may now be used as hard button remotes including control over volume, mute, playback, directional pad, and system off. iOS 13 is required to use them.
  • Sony XBR/BRAVIA Pro TV IP Control: High-end models from recent years such as the A9G this year use a new control protocol. These are now fully supported including power control, app guide, and app launching.
  • New Automation Interface: One of the stragglers from the sweeping interface updates of V5 was the Triggers/Automation system. This has now been completely updated.
  • Grid Size: Action Panel Design editor now provides a selection to change the layout density of buttons.
  • Receiver Input and Mode are displayed directly in the volume dial.
  • Yamaha MusicCast receivers and speakers now dynamically retrieve and offer selection for sound modes.
  • Arlo Camera support updated for extensive changes and rebranding.

Changed or Deprecated Features

  • Simple Hub: Software re-architected so that this is no longer needed. Some features such as Hub Relay and Trigger execution require at least one device online. If you need to execute Triggers based on events, or times, you will need one device online at all times. At any given time, any active device will play the role of the Primary Controller for purposes of Relay or Triggers. By default, this is determined dynamically based on uptime. You may also specify a device that should always be preferred as your Primary in the Homes panel. If your configuration uses specific devices such as Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat control (non-HomeKit), specifying a dedicated Primary is required. Otherwise, users can forget about this whole topic.
  • Remote Access: This feature never belonged in the product. It could be convenient to access your home network devices without a VPN, but required a large array of functionality on our side that made the product much more complex. This problem today is better solved via VPN software with the time to dedicate to this issue that was at best tertiary for us. We recommend OpenVPN, but of course there are many good VPN solutions. WireGuard is also worth a look. Using a dedicated solution for the small number of users that wanted this is much better from a security perspective, and it is desirable to have fewer things opening ports on your router. Back when we designed Remote Access, VPN for iOS was almost non-existent. Since then, Apple added third-party entitlements that have led to a plethora of good options for the platform. A VPN has always been the correct solution to this problem, results in better performance and security, and there are numerous solutions mature in the market. In particular, this is visible when loading a video camera remotely that no longer goes through our video transcoding and is thus invariably higher quality. So we have removed this feature and added notifications when appropriate to connect your VPN. Each Home is now associated with a Wi-Fi SSID to assist in distinguishing that. You will need to set that manually the first time for any existing home.
    • Important Note: It is trendy of late to mis-use the term “VPN” for products that simply obscure your traffic source by re-routing through a different IP Address, creating a weak form of point to point privacy. Don’t confuse real VPNs with that. To replicate the Remote Access feature, you want an actual VPN product like OpenVPN that creates a VPN tunnel from your iOS device endpoint to your home network. Both OpenVPN and WireGuard do exactly that.
  • Multihome (Locations, Multiple Users, Permissions): Replaced by the new cloud sharing support. The Homes panel now provides the ability to create multiple homes and share each home with others – including the ability to designate a user as read-only. These features are also no longer related to the type of subscription directly. Sharing can be performed via any subscription. The 8 and 24 subscription levels are limited to 1 Home.
  • Alexa Control: Of course, Alexa Control is still part of the product. It’s just slightly different in how you turn it on. Alexa does not require a Hub at a specific IP Address, so our two Alexa Skills carry forward with no changes. (Note that the skills are still titled “Simple Control” at the moment.) A new set of options activates Alexa Control. If you have already enabled the skills in the Alexa app, just turn on Alexa Control in V6 and Sign In from the Always-on Services panel in Settings. Make sure at least one of your devices is active at any given time – this can be either an iOS device or macOS Catalina running Roomie. Alexa is the primary reason that the old Simple Control login accounts exist. If you do not use Alexa, there is no reason to login, so we have removed the login alert at startup. Note that our enhanced Siri support on iOS 13 in this release means you may not need the Alexa skills anymore. Nothing needs to be running to use our Siri support.
  • External Commands: V5 allowed Simple Hub to act as a server on a fixed IP Address for certain external integration most notably SmartThings. Via local network commands, it is possible for a SmartThings motion detector to trip and cause an Activity to execute in Roomie. This feature is now controlled per-device via the Local Network Control switch in the Always-on Services panel. Make sure to designate that device as your Preferred Controller as SmartThings expects it to remain on a fixed IP Address.
  • PIN Lock: iOS Guided Access has replaced this feature with real TouchID/FaceID and system-level PIN entry none of which existed when we added this feature, but has now obviated the need for it.
  • iBeacon Room Detection: When Apple introduced iBeacons, we quickly added support. We thought it was a promising idea, and that it would be improved over time with greater accuracy. We thought Apple would introduce their own iBeacons, or at least introduce whatever things they felt were required to enable location internal to a home. After many years, it is time to remove this feature until such time as Apple moves the hardware level forward. Early signs in the iPhone 11 with the U1 chip indicate such a time may yet come to pass. iBeacons didn’t work perfectly, they caused support issues, the only beacons were from third parties, and the accuracy was very difficult to tune correctly. We look forward to re-introducing this feature one day when these factors improve.
  • watchOS App: Creating this app was a labor of love, but it was infrequently used. For now, we have removed it. We hope that future improvements in watchOS will improve the platform. Even in watchOS 6, the complete absence of standard network communication APIs continues to hold back the platform for controlling local devices which forced us to relay everything through the phone resulting in a laggy experience. Should this change in the future, we will certainly re-evaluate.
  • tvOS App: This served a useful purpose as an alternate Simple Hub platform in the old world. However, the platform itself is hobbled by major deficiencies such as a 512KB storage limit for apps (everything past that gets deleted by the system automatically, without notice, and unpredictably). This ended up making it the worst choice for a Hub. The camera viewing feature was great though, and it is likely we will re-introduce a tvOS app in the future based directly around that. Now that configurations are synchronized automatically via iCloud in V6, the storage limit issue can also be worked around.
  • Google Nest Support: This is not actually a change in the software, but rather a reminder that Google Nest disabled all access by anything other than the Google Nest app as of August 31, 2019 (some users are grandfathered if you already set it up). Even if it still works for you, the remaining thread is brittle and will break forever at the accidental acceptance to update your Nest account. If you still use Nest, we strongly recommend Ecobee and Honeywell as excellent alternatives, or the many HomeKit thermostats. The idea of removing a great API without any equivalent replacement as a last ditch effort to force market position for a voice assistant is such a breathtakingly questionable move that one might safely assume the Nest products are unlikely to be a good choice going forward. Despite marketing fluff on the Google website, there is no replacement API.

Support

Technical Support constrains incoming tickets to bug reports. For a small company without dedicated support personnel, limitless free AV consultation is not sustainable, and that has definitely been how our support has been used at times. It is important to set expectations appropriately. For clarity, these are the incoming support tracks:

  • Customer service for purchases: Apple App Store
  • Bug Reports: Direct submission via app
  • Questions/Advice: forum.roomieremote.com (user to user discussion)
  • Users requiring AV consultation or assistance are encouraged to seek the help of local installers. Our bug report submission system does not provide generalized AV or Home control support.