The smart home has a voice assistant problem
“Alexa, should I use Siri or Google?”
“If you think the home automation/ smart home scene is still in its infancy (and it is), then the voice-controlled smart home baby hasn’t even been conceived yet.”
Voice-controllable smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are the latest holiday sales darlings. At the most basic level, both can be your source of entertainment (e.g., have them stream music), but if you’re willing to let them into your life fully, they can also be your personal assistant and the commander of your smart home.
That last bit is why I got the Echo. You see, I’ve a Z-Wave network at home that’s set up to control my lights and power switches, and I’ve long wanted to control them via a way that’s not the atrocious app my smart home controller maker provides. The Echo/Alexa solution is attractive because, really, what form of interaction can be faster and more natural than voice?
But the problem is (and it’s a big one), it requires a ton of work to integrate the Echo into an existing smart home, as opposed to starting off with the Echo and then building a smart home around it. So while the Echo has a decent list of smart home partnerships (e.g., Belkin WeMo, Insteon, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink), if you don’t use any of them, be prepared to hack your way through to make the Echo the center of your smart home.
Which is exactly what I did since most of my Z-Wave devices came from players such as Aeon Labs, Fibaro, and Vera. Long story short, I’m now running a piece of software (search “ha-bridge” on Google) on a Raspberry Pi that emulates a Philips Hue light system, which in turn “tricks” Alexa to recognize my Z-Wave devices. Alas, like how a recent report by VoiceLabs that noted that people aren’t sticking with voice apps they try on their Amazon Echo or Google Home, I find myself not sticking with the smart assistants I use. Just a couple of months into Echo/Alexa, I was already looking for ways to get my smart home to work with my iPhone and Siri. For the uninitiated, for that to happen, ideally, I should be using HomeKitenabled devices. But because I don’t, I’ve to once again search for a tool that emulates the HomeKit API. I won’t go into details, but for the technically inclined, Homebridge, a lightweight NodeJS server, is arguably the best solution now if you want Siri to control non-HomeKit devices.
Really, if you think the home automation/smart home scene is still in its infancy (and it is), then the voice-controlled smart home baby hasn’t even been conceived yet. My pessimistic view is that it’d take another decade for all the correct pieces to fall into place. But that’s for another story.
(P.S. For those wondering, yes, I’ve also integrated Google Home into my smart home. Speaking to Alexa, Siri, and Google for different matters is really not fun.)