Alexa and Smart Home : Six Things You Should Know
When it comes to Smart Home automation using voice, Amazon’s Smart Assitant, Alexa, is the only option right now in India. There are a couple of OEMs including Oaktra, TP-Link, and Philips which offer a product. They work, but there are a few things you should know about Alexa before you go ahead and buy. These are the limitations which I have figured out of the experience, and I think, you should know about them as well.
1. Simple & Limited Routines
Routines or Schedules work perfectly with Alexa, but they are too simple. Say, for example, when I create a schedule, for my heater, I need to create two separate routines, one to turn it on, and second to turn them off. Now if you have 3 switches, and they all need to be automated at multiple times a day! Do the math!
2. Limited API access
Most of the OEMs have their own app for their smart devices. These apps offer a lot of features. A classic example would be Xiaomi’s YeeLight. The app lets you select colors, scenes, change color based on music, select color from a broad spectrum, and has timers. Compared to this, Alexa only lets me to turn on/off, and enable scenes, change brightness. But yes, all these features can be managed through the voice.
The point is when setting up a smart home, you will have limited access to features unless the OEM decides to implement it explicitly to support Alexa.
3. Limited Protocol support
This is specific to Echo Plus which comes with an in-built HUB.
Echo Plus supports only the Zigbee protocol. There are others smart hubs which offer other protocols including Z-Wave and Lutron’s Clear Connect. The basic difference between the protocols is Zigbee is more prone to interference from routers which operate at the same frequency. Z-wave, on the other hand, works on much lower frequency, and Clear Connect uses highly reliable RF technology for the same reason.
As of now, it’s not a problem. Smart Home is still new, and there is defined standard for now. But if you are picking up a product, you should know if it’s going to be compatible with your devices.
4. No Activity History
While Alexa has a history section, it clubs together everything in one place. It doesn’t categorize between Smart Home commands and others. That means you cannot get details if the command actually worked.
Oakter, the company which has Smart Home products, offers detailed activity history where you get to know who turned on the switch, the time, if it worked or there was a problem, and so on. These details are important, but you cannot see them in the Alexa app.
5. Voice Activation
You should be careful while naming your devices. From India perspective, Alexa doesn’t really work well with accents, and many times it hears and understand things differently. Make sure to keep the name as simple as possible, and less conflicting.
6. Limited Group Control
This is a big advantage with Alexa, that it can combine multiple devices, even if they are different from other OEMs. So if you want to turn off all the lights, and fans of the living room at the end of the day, I can just shout out “Alexa Turn off Living Room”.
That said, it’s limited to just turn on, and off. You cannot use the Groups into Routines to do something complex. Say, if you want a group of lights to go on, and some to go off, you cannot do it.
The article isn’t meant to list out the negatives of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo devices, but to educate users to set right their expectations before they go ahead and invest in smart home products hoping to integrate them with Amazon Echo.