So…You’ve Got Alexa (or Google Assistant or Siri). Now What?
If you’re like millions of other people out there, you recently got a new Smart Speaker like the Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod (or Google Nest Hub with the built-in display) and are getting the hang of the voice commands you can use to play your favorite tunes or videos, send messages, check the weather or news, or remind you what’s on your calendar for the day. Maybe you’ve even set up Alexa to allow you to quickly purchase some of your favorite products on Amazon. Boy…these virtual assistants can really be handy!
But, did you realize that all of these devices – combined with some other really amazing tech gadgets – can enable an assortment of automation, connectivity, and controls in your house? With the right products and know-how (or assistance from experts) you can really turn your house into a Smart Home.
Heating & Cooling Controls
More than just a “nice-to-have” option, using your Smart Speaker’s virtual assistant and connected systems to control your home’s thermostat can be a money-saver as well. On the heating/cooling side, if you’re up for an afternoon project, and depending on the age of your existing system, Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat is one that can be installed yourself and then controlled via your Google Assistant.
“Hey Google, what’s the temperature inside?”…or…”Hey Google, set the temperature to 72.” Done.
This smart thermostat can also be set up to turn your home temperatures up/down depending on your schedule – or to even sense when you are nearing home and adjust temperatures accordingly (via your mobile phone’s location settings). One caveat: the Nest Learning Thermostat works with only one “zone” systems, so it will adjust the temperature of your entire home with no individual controls to adjust different rooms to different temperatures. Check out options from Honeywell and Tado if you want to control a multi-zone system in your home.
Here’s a roundup of some of the best Smart Thermostats.
Check out this video showing how to do the Nest Learning Thermostat install:
In the Kitchen
The kitchen is often the hub for family activity where Alexa, Google and Siri get a lot of use. More and more, kitchen appliances are being enabled with Wi-Fi, allowing them, too, to be controlled by virtual assistants and other apps you can control via your smart phone. Great examples out there currently are smart kettles, coffee makers and the popular Instant Pot which all can be controlled via voice commands (which can be really handy when you want to start your coffee brewing, or your dinner cooking when you’re not actually in the kitchen.)
“Alexa, cook soup for 22 minutes on low on My Instant Pot”…or…”Alexa, COFFEE!!” It really can be as simple as that.
If you’re constantly forgetting to turn lights off when you leave for work in the morning, if you’re tired of manually setting timers for your lights when you go on vacation, or if you want to really dial up some killer ambience in your home you might want to add a Smart Lighting System to your birthday wish list.
Smart Light Bulb systems from Philips, IKEA and others are easy to set up and can be controlled wirelessly from your smart phone or via virtual assistants from Amazon, Apple or Google. Most do-it-yourself Smart Lighting systems have just two main components: smart lightbulbs that can be controlled wirelessly and a “hub” device that acts as the brains to connect these bulbs to your smart speakers and other devices through your home Wi-Fi.
Want to enable a complete schedule to turn lights on/off across your home – or have different schedules and light levels for when you’re home or away? No problem. Want to use a voice command to turn off lights across your home as you’re headed to bed? Yep, you can do that too. Even setting the mood for gatherings or movie nights is possible with systems that offer variable color LED’s.
Try “Alexa, dim the lights.”…or…”Alexa, turn my kitchen lights green.”
Here’s a selection of some of the best Smart Lighting Systems.
Recent statistics indicate that roughly 25-30% of all homes in the U.S. have security systems. More and more, virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google can be connected into these systems to unlock all kinds of features through voice commands. Professional systems like those by ADT, when provisioned with Alexa Skills, allow voice commands that can inquire into current security status and enable certain devices.
Some examples: “Alexa, disarm ADT”…”Alexa, is the back door locked?” or “Alexa, turn on the patio light.”
More do-it-yourself systems like Ring (owned by Amazon) or Google Nest use wireless sensors, cameras and mobile apps to monitor activity at your doors or inside your house. These systems can use Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands to arm or disarm your systems as you leave or enter your house. With the Google Nest Hub Max equipped with a touch screen display, you can use voice commands like “hey Google, show front door camera” to view who or what is at your front door from wherever you might be in your home. If you’ve got a SmartTV or tablet tied into your Smart Home system, you can even have Google “show front door camera on my bedroom TV.” Pretty slick.
Are Virtual Assistants Safe?
Listening & Watching – While the control a virtual assistant can add to your living spaces might seem convenient, is it a good idea to allow these devices to listen to every single word of conversation in your household? Maybe not. There are ways to limit your interaction with your devices. Amazon Echo and Google devices have a mute button. Press the button when you don’t want your virtual assistant to be listening. Or, keep Alexa muted at all times, and use the voice remote: press and hold the remote’s talk button, wait for the sound, then give your command. You can also make sure that Alexa makes a sound every time she is triggered to execute a command. If you’re using an Echo with a camera, you can manually turn the camera and microphone on and off if you’re concerned that the device is watching you when you don’t want it to be. These devices have an LED light that will glow red to indicate the camera and mic are disabled. Apple HomePod users can also control when Siri listens by saying “Hey Siri, stop listening.” To un-mute the device you need to go into the “Home” app and re-enable Siri.
Your Data – Be aware: all of these virtual assistants save audio recordings of your voice commands to some extent. Amazon, Google and Apple claim that this process is necessary to make sure your device is learning your voice style and understands you better. Not convinced? Use the tip above and mute your device when not in use and visit your Google, Amazon or Apple settings regularly to review and control your device privacy settings.
Common Sense – Other good practices to follow:
- Keep your device away from windows in your home to prevent an outsider from activating your device.
- Limit the number of skills or connected devices to only what you use.
- Keep your device software up-to-date and use strong passwords.
- Make sure to have conversations with your family members about smart usage of your devices.
For those who enjoy exploring smartphone apps and adding new “skills” to their virtual assistants, many of the products mentioned above can be purchased online or at Best Buy and set up yourself. But, if you would like a REAL assistant to help get things connected let us know and we can connect you with a company we trust.
JUST GETTING STARTED? TRY THESE:
If you don’t yet have a Smart Speaker in your home, here’s a great article from CNET comparing some of the best Smart Speaker options out there.
Here’s a New York Times that will help you Make Your House a Smart Home.
The Kim Pease Team can help ask the right questions that will assist you in navigating your next move.
Contact us if you or someone you know might need some guidance.