With Belkin's WeMo gadgets finally set to take orders from Apple's Siri, the smart home giants are vying for the coveted position of household butler – acting as liaison between the lord of the manor and your digital servants.
A smart home is supposed to make life easier but things soon become complicated when you're trying to juggle a dozen different smart gadgets using a dozen different smartphone apps. It's worse if you don't live alone and your loved ones are also trying to navigate your smart jungle, especially youngsters who might not have a smartphone in their pocket.
Initially it looked like the easiest solution was to swear your allegiance to a single smart home ecosystem, ensuring all your tech played nicely together, although this can limit your options and become expensive compared to taking a best of breed approach.
As soon as Google announced its new Home device last autumn, everyone (including this blog) was quick to call it an Amazon Echo Killer. But since then, the Echo has gained some new powers. So how do the two gadgets stack up in a head-to-head spec battle? Pretty evenly — except for the price.
This where a smart assistant can come to your rescue, like Tony Stark's AI-powered butler Jarvis. Rather than commanding each gadget in your home separately, you simply tell the butler what you need and it ensures that your will is done, regardless of which gadgets are required and what brand names they bear.
Voice-controlled smart benchtop speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are shaping up as the best candidates for the job. Rather than reaching for your smartphone you simply tell Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa what you need – using natural language rather than barking orders – and they take care of the rest.
Meanwhile Harman Kardon's new Invoke smart speaker is bringing Microsoft's Cortana into homes, putting even more pressure on Apple to follow suit rather than relying on Siri built into smartphones and tablets.
With Microsoft's Build developer conference just two days away, the company has revealed one of the most anticipated announcements from the event. A new Cortana-powered speaker made by German audio giant Harman Kardon.
Think of these smart assistants a bit like a Logitech Harmony universal remote control which manages your entire home, focusing on tasks rather than devices. Tell your smart assistant what you want to do and it will execute a complicated string of commands across multiple devices to make it happen.
Of course if you own a programmable universal remote like the Logitech Harmony you'll know that, while they're easy to use, they're a pain to set up. That's the next big challenge for the smart home, to make it simple for your average punter to integrate their smart speaker with third-party smart gadgets and ecosystems like Belkin WeMo, along with smart gateways like If This Then That.
Image. Alex Cranz/Mario Aguilar/Gizmodo
Our peaceful homes are being invaded by talking Bluetooth speakers and there's nothing you can do about it — so you might as well enlist the help of these AI-powered hubs and get them to do your bidding. Here's how to set up your own custom voice commands on Google Home or the Amazon Echo.
Of course you don't want to make things too simple and there will come a time when smart assistant makers are forced to restrict home admin rights to certain voices, lest your young children discover the full power at their disposal.
Setting up Google Home to control WeMo gear is surprisingly simple and you can do it right now in Australia, it only took me five minutes. You just need to temporarily change your smartphone's location and language to US English, after which you can add smart home gear from WeMo, Nest, Philips Hue, LifX, Samsung SmartThings and a few others.
Belkin continues its pursuit of making home automation a simple plug-and-play affair with the introduction of its new Smart LED lightbulbs to its WeMo line. The 60-watt equivalent bulbs produce 800 lumens and cast a warm 3000 Kelvin glow across a room — so they should satisfy even those who've stocked up on incandescent bulbs.
Once they're linked to Google Home you can switch back to Australian English and still ask the smart speaker to turn on WeMo switches and other devices around your home. My next challenge is to see if I can hook up a Nest smart thermostat to my heating and cooling, to put them under the command of Google Assistant.
Even Apple's traditionally closed ecosystem is opening up. You'll find a lot of AppleKit-compatible gear from the likes of D-Link and Elgato, but AppleKit-compatibility is also coming to Belkin's WeMo range so you'll be able to ask Siri to control your WeMo devices.
The WeMo family of smart home gadgets and internet-connected appliances is growing. We've had quite a long wait for this particular apparatus, but you're finally able to pick it up in a JB Hi-Fi or Bunnings Warehouse near you — Belkin's energy-monitoring WeMo Insight Switch is finally available in Australia, with an Australian power plug.
Rather than one smart home ecosystem to rule them all, it looks like we're destined to choose one smart assistant to bring order to the smart home chaos. Have you put smart gadgets to work in your home and how do you keep them in order?
Getting started in the world of home automation may seem daunting, but it’s actually fairly simple. Depending on your goals, it can also be quite affordable, and even save you money over time. A smart home isn’t just some automatic lights either - there are loads of options to make day to day life that little bit easier.