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

 

 

Zmodo Pivot Camera

Originally posted: Saturday, August 27, 2016

 My overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars
Product Review: Zmodo Pivot Camera

Welcome to my first product review post, I am attempting to develop a template that will be helpful for products I’ve used in my home. I don’t intend to copy and paste marketing information from websites, instead, these reviews are focused more on my actual usage of the device. Keep in mind that this means I may not have used all the features of the device, but I will update this post as I explore more of the Smart Hub capabilities of the Pivot.

Basic info

Zmodo has a great website, and a simple product page highlighting the features of the Zmodo Pivot camera, the youtube.com video in this blog is a good overview/ad for the product. Zmodo began as a company in 2009, and more recently has started focusing on the smart home market.

What does the product promise?

This is from their youtube video description:

Pivot is a connected, robotic camera and security hub. With a 1080p camera, two-way audio, and 360 degrees of rotation and motion detection, Pivot ensures you always know what’s going on. It also acts as a hub, connecting its two included wireless window or door sensors, so that you can get notifications right on your smartphone when they open and close. 16GB of local storage allows you to save up to 2 days of recorded video for free, and built-in temperature and humidity sensors give you even more information about your home.

How well does it deliver?

I primarily used this for an indoor camera for my living room, here are the things I care about in general:

  1. Motion Alerts – Like to know if there is anything exciting to see
  2. Live Video with two-way audio – Need to be able to talk to folks that shouldn’t be in my living room
  3. Temperature monitoring – I have a dog who is sensitive to heat

For the things I cared about the product hit 2/3, I did find that having a built-in Bluetooth speaker was an added bonus. The built-in Bluetooth speaker was perfect for pairing my Echo Dot. Even when disconnected and reconnected from power both devices automatically reconnected overtime (over 4 times now). I really enjoyed finding the Bluetooth speaker, but the speaker quality is only a little better than the original Echo Dot speaker itself!

The only item that didn’t work well was the temperature monitoring, I did contact customer service and got a good response about this, but I’ve not yet followed through on seeing if they would replace the device due to the temperature sensor not working. My device only reports back one temperature, and it never changes. My chat session with customer support told me the device likely needed time to recalibrate the sensor, so they suggested that I unplug it for at least 3 hours then plug it back in. I did, and no change. Really this didn’t seem like something that should have even matter for a temperature sensor to work, but I followed those steps since that was the advice I was given.

Admittedly I’ve not really used the Window/Door sensors that came with the device. I did initially setup two of them to trigger the camera to move direction if their state changed. The sensors didn’t trigger the camera after one or two times, so I know of gave up on the sensors, but I will try them again in the future.

Is it a good value? And for whom?

I think this could be one of those devices that offers easier setup than SmartThings, but it seems to want to provide a great semi-closed ecosystem solution. The accessories for this camera/hub seem to be cheaper on average (e.g. Window Sensors) than other manufacturers. If you are looking to buy into a single solution, and not get complicated this could be that device. Since I didn’t use all the functions I cannot say it is there yet, but in the short time I’ve owned the device they have updated their iOS app, and are working on adding Cloud Storage as an option. It appears as if they are investing in their services.

If you are like me, you’ll never really us this as a hub, but you’ll just want to use it’s basic camera features. I think the device is trying to be too many things at the moment. But this is a device I would really like to see succeed!

How long have I used it?

I’ve been using this camera now for over 1 month.

What did I pay for it?

$163.70 (includes tax), it came with 2 window sensors.

What was the setup time and effort?

The setup time was only around 10 minutes, there was a funky step that wasn’t obvious to me during the app setup. Recently Zmodo did an extensive update on their iOS application. They may have improved the device setup flow, I’ve not gone back to try it again.

Do I feel it is worth the money?

The price of this device seems fair (I’m assuming my temperature problem was not common), and I still haven’t used it as a central hub for my smart home, as I like the functionality of the SmartThings hub to really switch to something new. I am torn on whether I’d buy another one or not. I think I need to try a few more features and see if I can get a new unit with a working temperature sensor.

Currently when I compare the price I paid for this, to the price I paid for a Canary camera, I feel better about the Canary camera.

How is the customer service for the device?

So far the interaction with Zmodo has been 50/50. I did send a detailed email to the support address on their website (support@zmodo.com). But I’ve still not received a response to this email:

I recently bought a Pivot camera and am using it in my house.

I noticed that the temperature measurements never change. It has only registered between 72 degrees and 73 degrees. I know this to be incorrect since I have many other devices in my house that measure the temperature, and these devices go up and down as I would expect throughout the day.

Since I bought this device to compare it against the main functionality of the Canary I was disappointed that it doesn’t have a good temperature measure. Since I have a dog that is sensitive to large temperature changes getting a good idea of what the temp is throughout the house is important to me.

Are there known issues around temperature measurements with this device? Could this be defective on my camera?

I did, however, go to their website and used the LiveChat functionality for their support site, and I received immediate attention. The person on the other end of the chat did say they’d replace the device if the temperature sensor was not working.

A smart house journey

Starting the journey

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”

Ursula K. LeGuin

Taking the first step towards making a smart house began innocently enough. While remodeling our home, a simple scenario was identified by our electrician; the utility room is separate from our main house. In the dark having the outside light on while returning to the front door made sense, but how would I turn off the light?

This journey could have ended as quickly as it started, had we just installed a motion activated light this problem could have vanished. Motion sensor lights are autonomous and unable to work with other devices in general, plus they are not aesthetically pleasing. This event gently coaxed my mind down the path of researching smart switches and bulbs, and that is how the journey began.

Guiding the journey

Starting by researching all the gadgets can be overwhelming, but many simple common sense solutions can be applied. As we dive into the sea of gadgets to automate our lives. Developing a set of principles to test if the journey takes us towards an ultimate destination is helpful to focus where we invest our time, money, and intellect.

My principles for smart houses:
  1. Smart things should function even when they are dumb
  2. Smart things should create an experience, but rarely seen
  3. Smart things can be practical and ordinary
  4. Smart houses should do more for you, than you for them

With these basic principles, this blog will focus on providing useful information to help you think about your journey to make a smart house.

Getting started

Smart devices

Finding all the gadgets has been a boost to starting this journey, this is a fun area for me, who doesn’t like looking at gadgets? To get you excited here is a small list of devices to check out now:

Keep in mind this is a very short list of gadgets, but a good one to start on your journey of smart home gadgets

common sense

Implementing non-gadget solutions in a house still makes it smart; this area is one I am paying more and more attention to as I realize not all smarts are gadgets. A short list of these ideas look like:

Keeping in mind that smart ideas can be staring you right in the face, and not cost a few hundred dollars per device! Letting common sense drive design often results in a smarter house without all the bugs!

Reading this blog

Sharing this experience serves two primary purposes: first, a journal of my journey to reflect on and learn from, second, a beacon for new people thinking about creating a smart house. The experiences shared via this blog will provide information on real world usage from day one through at least a month’s worth of usage. I will share actual costs where I can, and talk about customer support for companies I’ve had to contact. I’d love to hear any and all feedback, as well as suggestions for gadgets and topics to cover.