Routines are nice, but Automations are what make the smart home smart

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The Wink Hub 2 is smart and sleek (Credit: Wink)

Routines, scenes and automations, oh my! These are some of the advanced smart home features that our digital assistants have or recently gained, but what are they and which are making our homes smarter? Let’s start with what I think are the lowest tier: Routines and Scenes, which are basically the same but have different names.

With Google Assistant recently adding support for Routines, it has some feature parity with the Amazon Echo. Alexa has had such routines for some time, which allow you to bundle several smart home actions into a single voice command. Apple’s Home application has long had such a feature, although in the iOS world, it’s called a Scene.

There are some minor differences between the implementations taken by Amazon, Apple and Google, but over time, I’m sure all three companies will improve the ability to use one command to control multiple actions. At least I hope so. Google Assistant Routines are limited to six different presets (shown below) and for now you can only choose from a select group of smart home actions, for example.

This is good momentum for the smart home. But the reality is that routines or scenes, aren’t truly “smart”. All these do is extend a voice command from a one-to-one action to a one-to-many action. Essentially, this is still a UI, or user interface tweak.

Automations though? Those are a step above routines in my book because they make your home take actions on device-triggered or time of day events. And they don’t require any voice interaction, which is extremely useful in certain situations. They do, however, require a smart home hub or some other centralized smart home “brain”, unless you want to use a third-party application that can tie some of your devices together.

I’ve had some readers suggest that we don’t need hubs. Instead they argue that we need defined IoT standards or that we can just use the cloud as a hub.

Those are valid thoughts, but the reality is that widespread IoT standards aren’t coming anytime soon, if ever. Using the cloud is great until your home’s internet connection goes down: In that case a local copy of your smart home devices with automation rules running on a small computing device would work, but that essentially is a hub.

Hubs solve a key challenge: individual devices in the smart home typically don’t know about each other. Instead, a hub is what bridges data from smart switches, bulbs, locks, webcams and sensors that can all use different radio technologies. Put another way: The hub is the traffic cop in the intersection of data created by all of our smart devices. It knows the user-programmed rules of who should do what and when in the smart home.

Let me offer a simple example: If I want to walk through my front door at 10pm and have the inside lights automatically turn on, how can the smart door lock tell the lights to illuminate?

Currently, it can’t. The lock and lights have no relationship that they know of. Nor do they have any processing power to programmatically make some cause-effect event happen. That’s where the hub comes in. It can see from the door lock that I’m home. And using a rules based system, along with the time of day, it can tell the smart lights to turn on through automation.

This is is why I think it’s so important that Google create a hub, especially since both Amazon and Apple both have one for the home. Granted, the Amazon Echo Plus doesn’t yet support such automations but it’s a matter of time before that happens. If you have an Apple TV, HomePod, or plugged in iPad, you’ve got a hub can automate your HomeKit devices. Apple’s implementation is in the Home app, and it’s surprisingly easy to use.

In my vision of the smart home capability ladder, routines sit below automations because they make the home experience “smarter” with less user input. Currently, automations are as smart as the home gets.

Above automations though, I look to autonomy. By autonomy, I mean a central home hub that combines context, user patterns and personal information to anticipate actions and even suggest them to us. But, that’s a ways off just yet, so for now, I’ll be content to use routines and automation in my home.


Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

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NICE Alliance Aims to Get Smart Cameras to Play Well Together

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Sony Semiconductor Solutions, Nikon, Foxconn, Scenera and Wistron have formed an alliance to create standards that allow surveillance and IP cameras to play well with each other. The NICE Alliance, unveiled Monday, aims to create a new smart camera ecosystem, along the lines of the mobile ecosystems that have become so familiar. The “NICE” acronym stands for “Network of Intelligent Camera Ecosystem.” The idea is to create a shared set of standards that will allow cameras to communicate with each other and with services in the cloud.
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IFTTT now plays nice with TiVo and Wiser heating systems

A few weeks back we reported that TiVo support for automation service IFTTT was inbound, and enthusiasts would be able to integrate a whole new set of applets into their workflow. Well, that day has arrived, and the new applets even include limited Alexa and Google Home integration. Wiser heating systems have also received IFTTT integration. 

Wiser, for the unfamiliar, is an electronic heating solution by the British company Drayton, sort of like Nest’s thermostats.

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IFTTT now plays nice with TiVo and Wiser heating systems was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Grammarly’s mobile keyboard is nice, but it’s not for me

Grammarly keyboard

Every once in a blue moon, Apple will make a major change to iOS for the better. One relatively recent example of this is allowing the use of third-party keyboards. When it was announced, it was the change I didn’t know I needed. Although I tolerated the iOS keyboard, it wasn’t my favorite and I was definitely missing some keyboard features that are easy to come by on Android devices. Although third-party keyboards can’t provide every feature I miss (namely haptic feedback – yet) it is nice to be able to choose alternatives.

Recently, I saw that Grammarly released a new mobile keyboard on Android and iOS. I use Grammarly sometimes (not as often as I should) and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot on my smartphone. It works almost exactly as it does anywhere else. The keyboard analyzes your text and makes suggestions and corrections based on what you’ve written. No harm, no foul.

The only problem is that I realized on my smartphone, I tend to communicate a lot less formally than I do on the computer, mostly because I primarily text and use social media. On the computer, I’m usually doing work, writing e-mails, or doing schoolwork.

Now, I will say that the Grammarly keyboard didn’t try to correct all of my mistakes. The most blatant ones like “omggggggg” and “WAT” were left alone, maybe because they were so butchered from a real word in the English language that the program didn’t recognize what I was trying to say at all. What it did do was correct my incorrect use of commas, add capitals and punctuation, and autocorrected some words that I did not intentionally misspell (“acetaminophen” was one of them). And that’s great for when you want to sound professional and/or impress somebody by not sounding like a chucklehead, but most of the people I text already know that I’m a chucklehead, so I try hard to live up to those expectations by typing like one.

The only thing I didn’t like about the keyboard was that it doesn’t feature swipe gestures, which is an important part of texting for me as it allows me to feasibly use my phone one-handed for almost everything. I guess that makes sense, as I seem to have more blunders swiping my words than when I type them out one letter at a time (because so many words have similar swipe paths), but that’s a compromise I’m willing to live with because it’s just as easy to swipe the word away and try again.

In the end, because I care more about swiping than I do about being grammatically correct when I use my smartphone, I probably won’t be using the Grammarly keyboard unless it does happen to add swiping in a future update. But even if it doesn’t, it’s still a pretty good keyboard for people who want to keep it professional, or maybe just brush up on their grammar skills. After all, practice makes perfect! 

If you want to try Grammarly’s keyboard for yourself, iOS users can download it here and Android users can download it here. – Latest videos, reviews, articles, news and posts

Mercedes’ wireless charger doesn’t play nice with the iPhone X

I’m driving a new 2017 Mercedes E300 today, and it comes with a built-in wireless charger, which is a nice feature for a $ 60,000 car. Now, let’s overlook the poor placement of the charger — buried behind the cupholders, for some reason — and get to the main issue.

If you have an iPhone 8 or iPhone X, which come with wireless charging, you can charge your phone on the pad, unlike previous iPhones. But there is a major flaw that keeps driving me crazy, and it’s Apple Pay. Since the charging pad also has NFC, the iPhone thinks you’re trying to pay for something and automatically activates Apple Pay every time you put the phone down to charge.

Seems like a small issue, right? Well if you’re playing music in your car from your phone, as…

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BBC iPlayer Radio now plays nice with Carplay and Android Auto

For many, BBC radio is synonymous with driving. When you're stuck in a traffic jam, holiday road trip or boring post-work commute, sometimes the best company is a never-ending playlist punctuated with cheerful DJ chatter. For the longest time, that's…
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Here’s a thing: Google Maps plays nice now with multi-window

This flew under our radar for a while, but Google Maps was updated a while back to add some extra support for Android’s multi-window. Now when you’ve got Maps open together with another application, it will continue to work, updating your location and orientation even when it isn’t the application in focus.

The feature arrived as part of the 9.58.2 update, which is a bit over a month old at this point.

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