Microsoft Windows users longing for a native Home Assistant companion app might feel a pang of envy towards their macOS counterparts. The native Home Assistant app for macOS is undeniably useful, allowing seamless interaction with the Home Assistant dashboard and transforming a Mac into a presence sensor for their workspaces. One can't help but wonder why there isn't a Home Assistant companion app for Windows.
Apple's closed ecosystem allows one app to do it all
It's hard not to admire the unparalleled integration within the Apple ecosystem. From the effortless pairing of AirPods across devices to the instant accessibility of iPhone photos on macOS, Apple's seamless connectivity is unmatched. This integration extends to developer tools as well.
Though iPad Pros and MacBooks share the same silicon, they don't allow for cross-platform app installation. Enter Mac Catalyst, a tool that enables developers to convert iPadOS apps into macOS apps with relative ease. The Home Assistant companion app for macOS is, in fact, a slightly modified iPadOS app.
The Windows conundrum
So, why hasn't a Home Assistant companion app for Windows materialized? The answer lies in the stark contrast between Apple's cohesive ecosystem and the fragmented nature of Windows development. Unlike Apple, Microsoft doesn't offer a unified platform for developers to easily adapt their apps across devices. With Windows Phone being abandoned seven years ago, Microsoft has been relying on partnerships within the Android space, such as Samsung. However, porting an Android app to Windows isn't as seamless as it is to part an iPadOS app to macOS.
Until a similar tool to Mac Catalyst emerges for Windows – or the Home Assistant development team decides to invest in creating a dedicated Windows app – users will have to make do without a native Home Assistant companion app for their platform. Meanwhile, Windows users can explore alternative solutions, such as browser-based access to Home Assistant or third-party apps, to bridge the gap. While not as seamless as a native app, these options can still provide a satisfactory Home Assistant experience.
Porting iPadOS apps to Windows is an impossible endeavour
Porting an iPadOS app to Windows is no easy feat, as the development process would likely require starting from scratch. This is due to the vast array of variables present in the Windows ecosystem, such as the multitude of CPU and GPU combinations, compared to the more limited hardware options offered by Apple. Add to that the fact that Apple is now exclusively using ARM SoCs, while Windows largely runs on x86 processors.
While I'm not advocating for Apple's walled garden approach, it's hard to deny that the consistency across their devices makes it easier for developers to create a seamless user experience. Windows, on the other hand, is anything but consistent.
Embracing the progressive web app for Windows
In my view, the most viable method for accessing Home Assistant on Windows is through the installation of a progressive web app (PWA). PWAs can be installed on your operating system, providing a native look and feel. Most modern browsers support PWA installation, with Firefox being a notable exception.
For those with limited device integration needs, the recently ported HA Menu is worth considering. Additionally, there are several options for gathering data from a Windows machine in Home Assistant, such as the HASS Workstation Service and IOT Link.
The Android app on Windows: A less-than-perfect solution
While Windows 11 promised the ability to run Android apps, the feature remains in testing due to the early release of the operating system. As a side note, I'd advise holding off on upgrading to Windows 11 until it matures further. The Home Assistant companion app for Android on Windows may seem like a viable alternative to the macOS app, given its impressive sensor data collection capabilities on smartphones. However, the Android Subsystem for Windows operates within a virtual machine, limiting app access to the system's hardware. As a result, it's unlikely that the app could accurately detect camera usage by other applications like Teams or Zoom. Furthermore, the app's ability to collect basic information, such as battery percentage, remains uncertain.