Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Smart speaker not useful? Give it more smart things to control!

Your smart speaker can control LOTS of stuff!


This article is meant to help you get the most out of your smart speaker and begin setting up your smart home. It's a deep dive into what I've learned first-hand by setting up and managing our own smart home devices. The main sections include: 
  • Is your smart speaker simply a brain without a body? 
  • Real Life Examples: A Typical Day in Our Smart Home
  • Summary of Our Smart Home Components
  • Getting Started with Your First Smart Room
  • Types of Devices That Seem to Work Well & Some That Don't 
  • The Smart Home Brands We Use and Recommend
  • Conclusion

Is your smart speaker simply a brain without a body? 

Anybody who's seen Star Trek knows that a star ship's crew lives in a kind of sentient cocoon, surrounded by smart devices that are coordinated by a central brain that's always ready to assist. Merely speak the wake word "Computer..." then make a request and that request is fulfilled.

Contrast this with that solitary smart speaker that your Uncle Billy bought, plopped in the corner of his living room and ignores except to ask it for the weather and set timers. He says he's not sure why he bought it and would certainly not waste money on another one. 

Here's the thing. Uncle Billy is simply not thinking big enough! The omnipresent "Computer" on that starship is connected to a navigation system, lighting and heating controls and all manner of devices which can deliver everything from "Tea ... Earl Grey, hot" to a multimedia, multi-sensory experience on the holodeck. Without these linked devices, that computer is just a disembodied voice. It might be an amusing conversation partner, but not truly useful in getting things done in the physical world.

And so it is with that smart home speaker. It needs a family of linked devices to live up to its full potential. And that family of devices can be easily matched to Uncle Billy's unique needs. Smart plugs, smart bulbs, smart cameras and media gear are all out there waiting to be brought home and connected. And they don't cost that much! 

Real Life Examples: A Typical Day in Our Smart Home 

I really like our smart home! It may not be the most sophisticated, but it just works. It consists of Google Home/Nest speakers, a bunch of smart electric plugs that switch ordinary "dumb" devices on/off, some smart light bulbs, a few security cameras and some smart media equipment. 

Note: We own a couple of Amazon Echo devices but have found them to be much less useful and dependable than our Google devices. So the interactions described here all take place within our Google Home/Nest ecosystem. All eight of these are strategically positioned so we can talk to them anywhere we happen to be in our house, garage, patio or back yard.

So what does all this stuff do for us? Here's a typical day in our relatively "smart" home.