Home Control Assistant Newsletter for June 19 2022

Have you read the Important Announcement posted on August 1, 2021? If you haven't you need to.
Update to “The Plan”

We are now almost one year into the
HCA Close down plan and we are about to enter a new phase. If you review the plan announcement you will see this new phase makes changes to support. If something changes that impacts HCA, and in response a change to HCA would be needed, there is no longer a guarantee that change will be made. What sort of thing could happen? A new version of the mobile operating systems could cause the HCA mobile app to stop working. Or a change in some supported hardware – like Phillips Hue or Lifx – that make it so HCA can no longer control those devices.

While that sounds ominous, I’ve undertaken some recent work to minimize this. You may have noticed that the mobile apps were updated recently. While there were no functional changes, the apps were “refreshed” to increase their longevity. Periodically Apple and Google kick apps out of the App Store that have not be updated in a while. This new app update will hopefully get us all the way to the finish line.

There are also new changes to HCA. I’m realizing that over the next years HCA will still be there – see my
end of April message - but pushed more and more into the background. It’s there. It runs. It does stuff. But it isn’t looked at and “maintained by the user” - making sure it is still running, devices responding, interfaces connected, etc.

What is the effect of that and what can be done to make for increased longevity? I’ve had some ideas.

First in importance is a better integration with Hubitat which can take over for the HCA Cloud for voice control. I’ve written about this before. But over the last months I have been working on a much easier integration.

You could already use Hubitat for voice control of HCA devices as described in HCA technical note 700. But it was quite a bit of manual work. All the virtual devices in Hubitat to mirror your HCA devices and programs had to be created manually one by one. If you subsequently made changes – added a new device, removed a device, changed a friendly name – you had to update it all manually. The new system introduces a HCA Hubitat app that automates much of the process.

Also, the older technical note 700 method didn’t allow HCA to update Hubitat if a device changed state – for example an Insteon sensor. This new method does that. Because of that, if you want to use more of the Hubitat “rules machine” you can have your rules take into account the device’s actual state. Also if you use a mobile platform app with your voice assistant, it shows the devices and their state visually. Having the correct state shown in the app will make it easier to control them.

Second major change is that an HCA Visual Program should be able to tell HCA to shutdown. Then an auto-restart – however you have that configured – would restart it. It’s the old “cable box” fix via a power-cycle but, while crude, often does “fix” things.

The third big change relates to HCA alerts. They are useful but unless you look at the HCA UI you may not know they happened. Currently you can create a program that runs when an Alert happens and sends you a message. Useful, but you must configure each alert separately. A better method would be to have one program to receive all alerts in addition to the alert specific programs. That way it would be easy to create something that lets you know when anything bad happens.

These changes are now available, but that brings up the question of how you get these new facilities: Ones that will greatly improve your HCA use during the transition time and after that. The Hubitat integration will make it easy for you to move voice control over to it and away from the HCA Cloud. As I said in my announcement FAQ, there will be no more major versions. But these changes have taken a lot of my time. I don’t feel it fair for me to give away this work uncompensated. 

Just an aside on this: If you have not yet integrated HCA with Hubitat you really should get started on that. If you want to keep HCA running in your home and use voice control this will soon be the only way to do it.
Hubitat is less than $100 as I write this with a sale going on, has no monthly subscription change for voice support, and as far as I can tell, is very reliable. 

My plan is this: I am making available a new build of HCA and all the drivers needed for this new Hubitat / HCA integration. It will be at the $50 upgrade cost as usual.

You have three options:

Option 1: Upgrade to this new HCA version and use the new Hubitat integration to preserve voice control of HCA managed devices and programs until you move away from HCA. Remember you can keep HCA as part of your automation solution long after I’m gone.

Option 2: Update to this new version to continue to support this sort of development even if you don’t need it now, but you do want to help cover the expenses of managing this 3-year HCA shutdown. Compare what I'm doing to what the Insteon people did - both the old and new guys who no one should trust. I'm trying hard to make this fair to both you and I.

Option 3: Don’t upgrade and stay with the current build of HCA. Nothing changes until the HCA Cloud shuts down and then you will lose voice control of HCA managed devices and programs. If you are using some build of version 17, support is still available as before.

If you want to read about this new Hubitat integration, here is
technical note #703 which takes you step-by-step through the process but you must upgrade to HCA 17.0.46 to make it all work. It isn’t hard to set up in Hubitat but you must be ready to carefully follow directions.

If you want to get HCA version 17.0.46, go to the
Get HCA Page and use the first "Buy Now" PayPal button. As usual, I’ll email you download info for 17.0.46. The new technical note #703 linked above has all that you will need once you get the new HCA installed.

Final note: This new Hubitat integration will work with HCA in client-server or in stand-alone mode. So even if you never embraced client-server or never created a HCA Cloud Account you can now get voice control.

If you are using HCA with UPB devices and also use Google Assistant or Alexa for voice control of them, please drop me a note as there are some developments you may be interested in.
If you are using a version of HCA prior to version 17, you may have questions about the wisdom of upgrading to version 17 given the future of HCA. Here is something to consider:

The support policy for older HCA versions has been changed
 as I can no longer devote time to past version users. Support will only be available for HCA 17 users.

If you are on version 16 or earlier and want to continue using the cloud features and want to be assured that if you have a question that it gets answered, it is indeed time to upgrade.

HCA is fully operational for several more years so the update cost, spread out over that time, is very little. Knowing support is available when you need it is worth it.
Upgrade to HCA 17
Anyone who is using Hubitat with HCA – not SmartThings – please drop me a note as I would like to add you to a discussion list for those users. I have some Hubitat ideas that I would like to “kick around” and it would help to have a group of users who have experience with Hubitat. Please just send a note to the regular support address saying you would like to be added to that discussion list.
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