What life is like on a housing estate where every home is powered by Apple smart tech

Trivselhus's Somnar Place development in Milton Keynes is comprised of 39 properties all equipped with the latest HomeKit accessories 

David Phelan
Monday 26 March 2018 11:18 BST
One of Trisvelhus's new smart homes in Milton Keynes
One of Trisvelhus's new smart homes in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes. Home to grid pattern roads and roundabouts, WD-40, the Open University and Midsummer Boulevard - at the east end of which the sun rises on the summer solstice. Not to mention six concrete cows.

And now, it has the first new home development in the UK with Apple HomeKit accessories fitted as standard.

The homes are fitted with the tech when the house is built, so at least on day one you don’t have the worry of finding sockets for the router, the TV set-top box or the smart speaker.

Sommar Place, from the Swedish company Trivselhus, is a development of 39 smart homes. They include Apple products such as a HomePod, iPod touch, Apple TV 4K and an iPad.

There are also lots of other smart home products, all compatible with Apple’s HomeKit platform, naturally.

The houses and flats are Swedish through and through, with huge, triple-glazed windows and a wide front door that opens outwards all reminding you that things are a bit different here.

And the smart home features are apparent immediately. A Netatmo Presence external security camera sits outside and the front door has a Danalock on it, which unlocks remotely using your iPhone, for instance.

If a front door that doesn’t need a key is worrying, the knowledge that Apple’s privacy and security features are exceptional may calm you. Though there is something startling as you watch the lock light up and hear the barrel whirr as the lock retracts. Handy, though, if you want to let in a guest or a delivery person. You can keep an eye on them with the Netatmo.

A Netatmo Presence external security camera (Trisvelhus)

Inside, many of the power sockets are smart, so saying “Hey, Siri, turn on the kettle” to your Apple Watch or HomePod in the bedroom will switch on the right plug in the kitchen.

Light switches are similarly HomeKit-enabled, so you can set up a scene, for instance, which as you approach the front door, unlocks it and turns on the living room, hall and kitchen lights, turning the LIFX bulbs to your favourite evening ambience shade. The scene can be activated by you saying “Hey, Siri, I’m home”, tapping the screen of your iPhone or just walking up with your iPhone in your pocket.

The radiators have Netatmo radiator thermostatic valves, so these can come on at the same time, or on a schedule, say.

There are Elgato Eve Motion sensors and door and window sensors for peace of mind when you’re out and these can switch off automatically when you walk in the door, so your phone isn’t alerted when you open a window.

And when you’re away and you just can’t remember whether you unplugged the iron, you can turn off the socket remotely (and check via the Logitech Circle 2 Camera that the kitchen isn’t actually on fire).

HomeKit-enabled plug sockets

The possibilities are endless. Obvious scene automations include telling the HomePod or Apple TV “Hey, Siri, it’s movie night”, if that’s not too twee a phrase to actually say out loud, or choosing the movie scene you’ve set up on your iPad. Right on cue, the lights will dim, the window blinds close, the heating adjust and the usherettes arrive with trays of Kia-Ora orange.

Well, not the last bit, obviously, and the Lutron blinds are not in the standard spec, but can be ordered for an extra cost and fitted and installed before you move in.

The show home, which was warm and inviting when I visited it on a chilly morning this week, is a four-bedroom model which is on sale for £450,000, though there are two-bedroom flats on sale at £250,000.

All very well, you may say, but wouldn’t it be cheaper without all this smart stuff? Well, yes, but only a bit. Trivselhus says that the cost of all the standard gadgets, infrastructure and socketry is less than 1 per cent of the cost of the house, which across a mortgage is negligible. And it does mean you don't have to replace all the light switches yourself when you move in.

The smart home is sometimes overrated: is it really that difficult to, you know, turn on the living room light at the switch?

But if saying, “Hey, Siri, good morning,” is all it takes to slide open the window blinds, inch up the bedroom light, hear the weather forecast on the HomePod, warm up the towel rail and pop the kettle on, well, then it becomes more appealing.

The smart home used to be the preserve of the rich, with custom installs of pricey accessories. Now, you can have it all built in for a reasonable cost before you even unpack.

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