Smart Home Voice Control - Strategies and Pitfalls

Chances are that if you have a smartphone, you have tried some voice commands to check the time, weather, sports scores, or something of that nature. You may also have experimented with Amazon’s various Echo (Alexa) products, Google Home or even other manufacturer’s products that have Alexa or Google Assistant voice technology built into them. Now, incorporating a few Smart Home technologies with these voice controls and it can get confusing about who you should ask to do what. For purposes of this example, lets consider four smart home technologies: Lighting, door locks, security system and a garage door opener.

Without worrying about how it all works, imagine for a moment that you could ask Siri (on an iPhone), Alexa or Google to do anything on any of those 4 Smart home technologies. Let’s also assume that you have a really good memory and you can remember the exact wording for each of the commands - a bad assumption for me, but hopefully a good one for you. Let’s also assume that it was simple to set up voice control for each of these four Smart Home technologies on all three of the voice services. What that the things that you need to know?

With that behind us, lets consider 2 scenarios around mobility and security. From a mobility point of view, you probably want to be able to use the voice services from any room in the house and also perhaps when you are not at home. With Siri, available on Apple products like iPhone and Apple Watch, this is relatively simple. If your phone is with you, you can do this anywhere inside or outside the home. If you have an Apple Watch, this is more likely to be on your wrist all the time, so you are covered without having to remember to bring it with you. This also applies to Google Assistant on Android phones.

For Alexa and Google home devices that are plugged into wall power, you will need to buy and place one in each room (or yell to another room) in order to have the inside of the home covered. You are out of luck for using them outside the home since these devices require AC power and are not mobile. (at least as of early 2018).

Security is another important subject. If I ask Siri to turn on the lights in a room, she will do it with my voice only. If I ask her to do something like unlocking a door, opening a garage door or disarming the alarm system, she will do it but only after I authenticate myself to the phone. This is a good thing of course because in the event that she were able to be fooled by someone else’s voice, we wouldn’t want those types of things to happen without knowing who was asking. Alexa and Google both require manual setup to recognize voices. If you have not done this, you may not want to enable home control of things like door locks, security systems and garage door openers. If your window is open a crack, it could make it pretty easy for someone on the outside of your home to get in. Also, with Google Home, only the primary account holder can control home devices if voice recognition services are on. Good for security, but not good if you have a spouse who wants to play too.

What does this all mean for voice control? If you are an Apple user, stick with HomeKit compatible Smart Home devices and use Siri on your phone or watch to control them. Save yourself the expense of buying a device for each room with Alexa or Google. If you are not on the Siri train, and want to use voice services, choose either Alexa or Google, buy a device for each room, make sure that the Smart Home devices you buy are compatible and set aside some time to do all the configuration as it is not trivial. Make sure you test all the key security concerns with other’s voices so that you don’t inadvertently have an open house that you hadn’t planned.

To cover all your bases, it is best to buy a Smart Home product that is compatible with all 3 voice services with a label that looks like this.

There are many out there, and one example to use as a reference is Lutron Caséta Products at http://www.casetawireless.com/Pages/Alliances.aspx . As you can see, there are many more integrations other than voice control services, but that is a subject for another day…

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