Say my name! “Ok Google?”

The battle for the smart home assistant

Smart home assistants
Smart home assistance, Amazon Echo Versus Google Home

While this is not a David versus Goliath battle, Google entering into the smart home assistant space with Google Home will drive a better experience for smart home assistants. Obviously comparing Google’s device Amazon Echo is the right thing to do! Both of the devices are vying for a place in our homes and hearts.

Spolier alert! The Amazon Echo is still the better option, and if you factor in the Echo Dot device remains cheaper for outfiting an entire house with a smart assistant.

This post is intended to talk about the experiences these devices bring to smart homes. While there will be some comparisons between the devices, I am not focusing on this as a product review for the Google Home device. I  did write about my homes Amazon Echo integration and focused on some common scenarios with NUI. While I don’t think Amazon is worried about Google’s new device yet, it interesting to note that you cannot buy one on Amazon, in fact, if you search for “Google Home,” Amazon’s result presumptuously return Echo devices as an option.

While Google could have chosen not to list the product themselves, many of Google’s smart home devices have been selling on Amazon for awhile.

What did Google Home get right?

From a smart home perspective, the device supports the Samsung SmartThings hub, the Philips Hue hub, IFTTT, and of course the Nest Thermostat and Google Chromecast.

“Ok Google,” this is much more limited than Alexa namely due to the time on market and the fact that Amazon lets third-party developers build skills. Alexa currently lists over a hundred skills in the Smart home category, Google only has the six I listed, however, they did pick a good list to start. The SmartThings hub integration made it easy to get all my smart switches, outlets, and bulbs up and running on with the Google home device so that I can control my lights with voice!

Where does Google need to focus?

Personify your assistant

Give the assistant a name! Saying “Ok Google” is not natural and makes it less likely other people in my house will use this assistant over Alexa, you’ve thrown an extra syllable the pronunciation for no good reason.

Fix the performance of your iOS app

I have thirty-six devices in my home the UI in the Google app is slow and takes about 15 seconds per device to associate with a room. That’s 9 minutes just to get all my smart switches and outlets added. If this is a native iOS app, someone needs to get their money back, the Amazon app seems to be driven off of a website and is so much faster.

Let third-party developer into your ecosystem

Creating a developer ecosystem is the most important thing you could do! Without developers contributing it will be difficult to make a dent in the Amazon ecosystem. I am hopeful your teams are hard at work on this.

What are smart assistants missing (IMO)?

Groups

update 11/7/2009

I overlooked the fact that a device has to be added to a room, and I can’t make custom groups. This is actually frustrating! I can ask Google to turn off all of my lights effectively. 🙁

Offline

Things still go offline, but using Z-Wave and other Radio Frequency (RF) standards can help provide basic home functionality when the internet is not required.

Local network

The power of the cloud is undeniable, but the responsiveness of my smart home is more important to me. Ideally, smart assistants would keep more of the logic local for controlling devices in my house and on my network. If you have designed around always relying on the network being available, you are missing a simple feature.

NUI integrating with traditional interfaces

While NUI is powerful, there are some simple scenarios I would love to see integrate with traditional communication interfaces. Why can I do things like this:

  1. “Ok Google, email me a recipe for Chocolate Mousse.”
  2. “Ok Google, text me the address for John Howie in Bellevue.”
  3. “Ok Google, open the address to the nearest Best Buy in Waze on my iPhone.”
  4. “Ok Google, call me at 8:15 p.m. in case I need to get out of dinner.”

Integrating with the traditional flows of communication will be a game changer for smart assistants, nobody is ready for an assistant to talk back, but many people would be okay with asynchronous integration into

The reviews are in!

Looks like many were waiting to review this product, or had been using beta versions and were ready for the release!

Review: Google Home

  • The Verge – Google shows promise, but still needs work
  • USA Today – In catch-up to Echo, but with promise
  • Engadget – Focused on the Google Home device
  • Engadget – Focused on the IFTTT integration!
  • Cnet – List of commands for Google Home

 

 

August Smart Lock

My overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

August smart lock on door
August smart lock on deadbolt door.

Basic info

The August Smart Lock is a battery powered lock for a deadbolt door that provides virtual keys for guests, automatically locks and unlocks your door and integrates with other August products:

  1. August Connect – Remotely control your August Smart Lock
  2. August Doorbell Camera – Video and Voice doorbell
  3. August Smart Keypad – Keycode entry for the August Smart Lock

August integrates with Apple’s HomeKit, has IFTTT support, has an iOS and Android App, has an Alexa Skill.

What does the product promise?

This product promises to provide controlled access to your doors, very simple!

How well does the product deliver?

Sharing access to my house has been easy with August! We regularly have family and friends that stay with us, and using Digital Keys is super easy.

Is it a good value? For whom?

I believe that this is a good value for the ease of controlling access to your home. The lock has saved me from having to coordinate with contractors to be home with a key when they need access. The lock had saved me time from having to call my dog walker (who had a physical key) to let us in when we lost our key. It is easy to match door hardware colors with the lock color, so the aesthetics are quite nice. Using the Alexa Skill to lock the door on my way out is the standard way for me to lock my door now!

After having this in our house for over six months, it is hard to think about having to lock my doors with a key! Initially, there was a lot of skepticism that a smart lock would be secure, but after reading online about an August hack and chatting directly with August support, I didn’t have much concern.

How long have I used it?

I’ve used the August smart lock now for over six months, and not having to fish keys out of a pocket to unlock or lock the door is useful.

How much did I pay?

I purchased four August devices, three of the devices were HomeKit enabled, one was an older model that I have on a door to my utility room. The prices ranged from ($150-$225)

What was the setup time?

Installing the lock the first time took me around 25 minutes, however, that was because I couldn’t figure out how to take off the back of my deadbolt! Once I had the door hardware disassembled putting to lock on was only 5 minutes of time.

Getting the app setup with an account took another few minutes, but I was up and running in under 35 minutes total time. Each additional installation was much quicker.

How is their customer support?

August is very responsive (dare I say they are amazing!) to any customer support questions I have emailed in. I saw responses usually the same day, and the company seems genuinely interested in making sure customers trust the product.

What problems have I had?

  1. Added incorrect user – Initially when adding a new user there was no way to revoke the invitation if you made a mistake. After contacting support, they released an app update that allowed me to remove the incorrect user
  2. Low Battery Warning – I changed the batteries the first time I received this warning from the app but thought this might not be the problem, I was right as brand new batteries still had a warning.
  3. Recalibrate the locks – I am not sure why, but a couple of times the locks wouldn’t lock all the way, and I had to re-run the calibration

What do I like about the product?

  1. Digital Keys! – Not having to make copies of keys for the family is priceless
  2. Control access times – Being able to provide windows of access is very useful
  3. Log of who’s unlocked and locked doors – A little piece of mind that there is a record of who is coming and going.
  4. The fact that the outside of the door looks the same! – Keeping the aesthetics of the original door was important to me