We’re checking progress on our ‘smartest home competition’ this week - this season’s challenge to install and use smart automation tech in our own homes. We recap the products and services we’ve tested and report on what’s working (and what isn’t) - covering everything from big-name brands to home-made solutions.
Ben: Hello, welcome to 361, a weekly podcast about mobile tech and everything around it. My name is Ben Smith.
Rafe: I'm Rafe Blandford.
Ewan: I'm Ewan MacLeod.
Ben: This is season 11 episode 6. This week we have a progress update on our smartest home challenge.
Rafe: We share what we've done so far.
Ewan: We'll be highlighting both the peaks and the pitfalls.
Ben: Welcome back, chaps.
Ewan: All right.
Ben: Happy Christmas.
Ewan: Happy Christmas.
Rafe: Yes, indeed.
Ewan: Was Santa good to you?
Rafe: I don't know because we're recording this before Christmas.
Ewan: I know but it's just nice to ask.
Rafe: Yeah, he was fantastic. He brought me lots of things.
Rafe: As my little niece says, "I must have been very good this year." I said, "Why is that?" "Otherwise Santa would not brought me all these presents." [inaudible 00:01:24].
Ben: She's convinced she can do no wrong because she always gets presents. All right, Blandford.
Rafe: Yes, exciting. Last episode of the year and we've got a real corker for everybody, I think.
Ben: It's a good natured chat.
Rafe: Good natured ... Possibly a chat.
Ewan: No, this is where we're going to size each other's up. We're going to do really workout who's been doing- [crosstalk 00:01:44]
Rafe: A vociferous debate.
Ben: Ewan MacLeod, just tell us what we're going to talk about this week. No preamble. Let's just get straight into it.
Ewan: Straight into it. We're talking about the smart home competition.
Ben: Halfway through the smartest home competition.
Ewan: Smartest home competition. If you've been following us, I hope you have, we have been at it. I have had it off my fence and actually gone buy some stuff and get stuck in now. Today, we are going to ask each other how we're getting on, have a status update because, as you say, we're just over halfway through. I'm going to talk about how we have got on in the context of the marketplace and ...
Rafe: What's it's taught us about smart homes.
Ewan: Yeah, the learnings of things.
Rafe: I think we've definitely learned a lot. This is turning out to be a proper challenge.
Ben: Right then.
Ewan: How are we going to do this?
Ben: Who's going to volunteer to go first to show us how they're getting on with their smartest home, Rafe Blandford?
Ewan: Rafe was the Peter Andre.
Ben: The Peter Andre?
Ewan: Yeah, he peaked very, very soon. I think. Talk about strictly ... There must be some ...
Rafe: Still don't know who you're talking about.
Ewan: It's really come downstream, BBC, very popular show.
Ben: This podcast has gotten very pop culture all of a sudden.
Ewan: Right. If you watch that, Peter Andre was doing really, really well at the start.
Rafe: Is he one of the dancers then?
Ewan: No, no, no. He's mysterious [girl 02:56]. Him and Katie Price, the model ...
Rafe: No, sorry.
Ben: I think he's one of the celebrities.
Rafe: Oh right. Okay.
Ben: Oh my gosh. So you don't know who Peter Andre is.
Rafe: Has he beaten John Sergeant then?
Ben: That was seasons ago. We've been very distracted. Anyway, you were trying to make a point about Rafe Blandford peaking early.
Ewan: If you remember ... Was it episode two? He said I've done it. Basically, we have [inaudible 03:21] walks into his bathroom and plays the weather forecast.
Rafe: No, that was episode four.
Ewan: I don't like to use the word smug, but I just have.
Ben: That's because Rafe actually brought us ... After we finished recording that episode. He showed me everything working. Watch this ... Bang, the light goes on. Watch this, the lights gone on. It looked really cool. I had nothing. The only thing I had was a Sonos at that point. No, Blandford, I'm way, way ahead of you, man.
Rafe: Excellent, well, I want to hear all about it then.
Ben: Just tell us how rubbish your current installation is.
Rafe: I insist you go first.
Ben: No no no, wait a minute, have you done anything else to it?
Rafe: I have done some additional things, so I won't be able to [crosstalk 04:01] about that.
Ben: Such as, such as. Fill us in, you go first.
Rafe: So, as people know, I invested in Smart Things, which is actually a product from Samsung, although it's a company they recently acquired, but still, quite separate. It's a bit of a start-up. You end up with a hub and then a bunch of sensors, and you can then start connecting it to things.
I will admit there has been something of a struggle because finding things that compatible in the UK and work with it has been quite hard work because they only recently launched in the UK back in October. There are a lot of things that work in the US, but don't work in the UK, and I've had to work out how to install some of the device types and the various things, as they are called, to get them working.
I have tied in a sonar system, various sensors, and I now have light bulbs in various places in the house that switch on and off. What I've really been experimenting with is installing what they refer to as smart apps. This is, when something happens on a sensor or a combination of sensors, or at a certain time, or at sunset, or when my presence is detected, it will then carry out a range of things.
Ben: That's very Christmassy, isn't it?
Rafe: It is.
Ben: "I've detected your presence."
Rafe: It will then set the, and it's actually Phillips U light bulbs for the most part too...
Rafe: A certain scene, and it will even turn them up slowly over time. For example, in the morning, there's a gentle wake up that actually sets the house to auto mode, so it turns off all the security sensors, it starts turning the lights into ... Matching the sunrise, and then it will turn on the radio as well. It's also detecting various things in terms of temperatures around the house, warning me when there's low things or if a window is left open. Each of these smart apps, effectively what they do is they are taking the various outputs and then combining them with the various things that can do things.
Ewan: So all you've got is some light bulbs and a Samsung Smart Things pack.
Ben: He knows when it's cold.
Ewan: No, it's just a temperature thing, right? Is that all you've got?
Rafe: It's got a couple of motion sensors, it's got a...
Ewan: No, hold on, you're talking about the Samsung Smart Things starter pack? Is that all you've got, and some light bulbs?
Rafe: No, I've added some bits to that. It's also working with the Net [app mode 06:18] [inaudible 06:18] which I talked about before, so that does...
Ewan: No, you already had that for years.
Rafe: So the temperature...
Ewan: So the Net 9app mode 06:25] where the station is, getting the temperature from outside, and it's changing your internal heating accordingly?
Rafe: I haven't actually got it connected to the heating because I decided not to go for the HVAC option just at this point in time because that's actually a fairly major investment. That's one of the things I've learned that, if you want to install something like HIVE or MEST, you actually need to make quite an interest and quite a serious decision, which I think we made difficult for ourselves by making this about ten weeks, because it's actually been upgraded, my case, to the heating system itself is not something I'm just going to install into the existing heating system.
The thing that I've discovered is that, in order to be a proper smart home, you actually need to basically do things without any intervention yourself. The remote control stuff is kind of interesting, and that's what I showed you last time, as is [inaudible 07:11] log temperatures and energy consumption, and various things like that. What I found most interesting is actually using the sensors to do things automatically for me. If I get up in the middle of the night, the light switch is on, but it knows that it's the middle of the night, so it only does it to 10%.
Ewan: You've written a rule that says that?
Rafe: I've effectively written a rule that says that...
Ewan: How does it know when you get up?
Rafe: It's using a motion sensor.
Ewan: Where, though?
Rafe: There's actually a couple of motion sensors, because I had to think about this quite carefully to make sure it didn't detect me rolling around in bed. There's actually two that will have to be triggered before it will actually turn on the lights. What's night about the Smart Things system is that you can effectively add multiple inputs together to then have an output, something happen, and it can be multiple outputs.
It's smart enough to distinguish whether you're home or not various days of the week and times, so it has, essentially, occupancy, but you can also set it into various modes so, at night time, you can have it so none of the automatic rules apply, or that a different set of automatic rules apply.
So, as I walk around the house, things just happen. My idea, which I have to admit I haven't quite got to yet, is that I will never have to touch a light switch because it will be intelligent enough to know when I'm in a room, what time it is, what I'm doing, and therefore, set it to the right level or to the right mood.
Ewan: You know what that means? That means race romance mood, doesn't it?
Ben: Mmmmmm, the temperature's gotten hot in here.
Rafe: It's detecting the presence of someone else.
Ben: Just slightly warm the lighting, locks the doors...
Rafe: One of the bits of fun I've had is actually working out how to use the things I have. For example, a Sonos can be used as a speaker, and you work out what things do you actually want it to issue an alert for. If I leave the front door open for more than a few minutes, it will actually tell me that I've left the door open.
Ben: How easy has it been to retrofit all these sensors and things because, stuff like light sockets and Philips light bulbs...
Rafe: Dead easy.
Ben: Dead easy, you just plug them in and away they go, and they might or might not look attractive, but they work. Door sensors and stuff like that ... For me, traditionally, that means power supplies wired up to doors and all that kind of good stuff.
Ewan: No no no no.
Rafe: The interesting thing is that it appears with a smart home there are basically two options, you do it at build time, and yes, you do wire it into the mains, and there are things ... You can put a relay in a switch, and that can communicate with the Smart Things hub, and it's generally Z-Wave or Zigbee. The same would apply for a door lock, and I did look at the Yale lock that you can replace a traditional Yale lock with. In the case of the sensors, most of the time they're just battery-powered by CR-232 batteries, and you can just stick them onto the wall using a bit of 3M tape. You can choose to mount them with screws if you're putting them up permanent, but I've actually been trying out various different positions to work out what works best...
Ben: He's back to the romance mode again.
Rafe: The sensors are coming in at about 30 quid a time, so actually, when you stop putting multiple ones in a room, which you can do, it starts getting expensive pretty quickly, and you do start looking around for other options. In the States, Smart Things has been around a bit longer, so there's a whole community around being able to use other sensors at Lowe's, which is a big DIY place, does them starting at $10. They're 30 quid for the equivalent thing from Smart Things...
Ewan: That's like $50 here, isn't it? It's a high cost of entry.
Rafe: I could easily justify spending five if they were $10 a time, that's the thing I've also discovered about smart home. It's a pretty expensive hobby.
Ben: There's more to say about your smart home, but let's move on and find out how Mr. MacLeod has been getting on.
Ewan: I equal Blandford by just pressing the button on Smart Things...
Rafe: You just copied me?
Ewan: No, I just got the Samsung thing.
Rafe: See, you just copied me.
Ewan: I didn't copy you, I just...
Rafe: Did the same thing as me.
Ewan: I just leveled [inaudible 11:03] was simple.
Rafe: Not very imaginative though, is it Ben?
Ben: Is Smart Things a proprietary standard? That's what worries me.
Rafe: No, it's not.
Ben: What integration is there into other things?
Rafe: Smart Things is, by design, kind of an open standard. Naturally, it's based on having multiple radio technologies, so it's Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, ZigBee, it's also got Bluetooth in it. The smart apps that you can plug in are, by design, essentially open source, and it's designed to work with as many things as possible, but it does rely to a certain extent on either Smart Things or the Thing manufacturer actually writing the integration, the plugin.
Ben: What stuff are you going to integrate your Smart Things with?
Ewan: Hold on one minute. The number one most annoying thing I find with this whole experience, buying a Smart Things startup pack, it's not available on Amazon. I mean really, really annoying. It's only available at PC flippin' World, or you order it directly from them and get the rubbishy logistics system. Really, really poor.
Ben: Can I just stop you and, this is an episode about smartest home, but on Black Friday, Rafe messaged us both and said, "Hey, the Smart Things in on sale, take a look." I wrote, "I'm not going to buy it, but I'm going to and have a look." It took me seven goes to create an account on Samsung.com to be allowed to see their store. My 12-digit long password...
Ewan: I had this problem.
Ben: Created for me by one password was not complex enough. It said, "Your password doesn't have a special character." I said, "Well, what do you want? Some kind of cryptic backstory about crime fighting past?" God's sake. It just ... It took me bloody ages to get in, and then ... There was a discount, but anyway. Anyway, you finally get into the store.
Ewan: It was either Thursday or Friday, I think I ordered it Thursday, and it came on Monday.
Ben: That's not bad.
Ewan: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I think I pressed a button on ... Yeah, so I thought, "Well, at least it'll come on Saturday." No. Sunday, no obviously because they're all sleeping. Then Monday eventually inched in, so that was very annoying.
Ben: That's because you like things to arrive fifteen minutes after you order them.
Ewan: Yes, exactly. I've go the Samsung thing, now what I've been doing is sticky tape because it's really, really easy to set the thing up, press a button by [the main don 13:15], that was great. I thought, "I wonder if this door switch thing works." I was just kind of playing with it on the desk, my phone goes, "Oh, someone's opened the door." I got some [sales 13:26] tape, stuck it up in the door, and bang. It's really cool. It was very, very, very quick to make the door openable and then tells me when the door's open. Then I was playing with the actions that would happen. What I did is I had to travel, so the starter pack comes with a presence key ring, key fob thing.
Ben: Oh, right, yes.
Ewan: So I put that in my wife's bag. I told her, obviously.
Ben: Surreptitiously tracking your wife.
Ewan: Then I plugged in the lamp bedside table, plugged that in to make that automatic, and then I flew off. I activated everything and then had to go and get in the taxi, so I had about forty minutes just to sort of mess around and get it done. Then I used the rules after the fact to start making things happen, so it was actually at the Wagamama at Heathrow Airport did I actually have everything set up and monitoring and doing things. That was pretty cool. I had a Sonos, it find the Sonos no problem, that's really cool. I love the little dashboard on the Samsung Smart Things. I've installed it on my Apple Watch, but haven't tried it. That's been really cool, but I've also been trying some other systems. Have you come across Paper?
Ben: No, that's a new one to me.
Ewan: Paper's a home security presence control system, not entirely proprietary, but it's compatible with is it Aeon ... I want to say Aeon Flux, but what's the...
Ewan: Insteon. Okay, there's a particular brand that Paper is compatible with, and I have received the Paper system. You sit it in the corner of a room, and it monitors the external temperature, and that's monitored by the weather information that it gets, monitors the internal temperature, and monitors noisy ... It's got a big camera in it, it's got a night mode, night vision, and it's got 180 degree full vision. It's got its own app, setup was a breeze.
Ben: Does it integrate natively with Smart Things?
Ben: Ah. [crosstalk 15:16]
Ewan: What you can actually do is use the Paper as your hub if you like. It doesn't come with anything you plug in, Paper just connects to your Wi-Fi and ... Really, really effectively. You can actually have plugs and light switches ... I have bulbs running from that.
Ben: Right, but every time you buy a new product, it wants to be the hub and all the things.
Ewan: You have the option of doing it. No, it's particularly cool ... There's an alarm, a massive, massive alarm which I haven't dared try yet just because I've always been home with children and I just don't ... There is an option I'm going to show you, it can actually go, "Alarm, panic. Play massive alarm." At the moment, I'm in different app. I've got the Paper system, I'm loving using that because it's really cool. It's got all the different options of it. If it's in home mode, so that's I'm home, you can set all this and this could all be presence activated, then particular things happen. If it sees movement, what will it do. I've had it monitoring the kitchen, which is where we tend to be, and then I've now turned it to point outside the window into the driveway, which is just fantastic. This morning, I had a notification say, "Oh, the front door's open. I thought, "Oh, [inaudible 16:25]." Brought up Paper, so not ... Smart Things told me the front door was open, brought up Paper and then, "Would you like to see a live..." It's going to be black, you won't see anything because it's night time.
Ben: This is the worst demo ever.
Ewan: We're recording the evening. But, here you got all that buffering, you can't see anything now. You can hear my...
Ben: It can see your window, the reflection on the window.
Ewan: That's not working very well, the whole reflection thing. I need to ... But you can move it around.
Ben: Oh yeah, there we go. That's not bad.
Ewan: That's the [inaudible 16:54] volume's up very high there beyond, nothing get on, house is quite quiet. I wonder what would happen if my wife's home and I just went panic. There's some massive, massive, huge decibel thing. That's particularly interesting, I really have liked Paper, but of course, there's a compatibility issue with Smart Things if that is my standard. I'm not sure if that's my standard.
The other thing I've got ... Now, I haven't tried this out yet, but it's coming, is SwannOne.
Ben: I don't know that one.
Ewan: That's available in Maplin, it's a whole home security kit. You get the hub, you get multiple cameras and little devices, and monitoring thing. That looks really, really, really cool. It's got a heck of a lot ... It looks like a fully-fledged system. I don't know anything about compatibility yet, I haven't tried it, I haven't got it out of the box yet. I'm going to try that one shortly, so I've been playing with Paper, got to try SwannOne, so you can get that in Maplin right now. I like the idea that's a whole big system, and then Blandford, you're Netatmo. Netatmo, Netatmo, how you say it?
Ben: Badly, most of us have been getting it wrong, aren't we?
Ewan: Netatmo, there you go, the welcome camera.
Rafe: Okay, so I think what's interesting here, because I've looked at some of these systems as well, I'm trying to have a smart home that talks to all the other bits of the smart home, and I've already failed in that I have a kind of sleek monitoring product that actually does temperature and would be a useful sensor to tie in that doesn't actually yet work with Smart Things. I've been trying to create my own integration, so far, not very successfully. It sounds like your experience as well, you can get lots of quite cool things for the smart home now, but most of them are standalone and/or may be proprietary. Where they are trying to integrate, they want to be the central things.
We haven't talked about one of the big names, which is Google Nest. I looked at that as a possible option, and actually, because I didn't want to go down the HVAC ... That's heating, ventilation, and cooling ... I didn't want that to be my center, but there are a lot of things that now works with Nest in the same way that they are working with Smart Things.
It is possible to buy into a particular program and have it work, actually really quite well, or you can try and start connecting things together. I would say that part of the market is much less mature.
Ben: Unlike Mr. MacLeod, with his, "I bought some things. I used some things."
Ewan: Hold on, I haven't finished yet.
Ben: Okay, go on then.
Ewan: Right, so Netatmo, the welcome camera.
Ben: That's a new one that Blandford doesn't seem to have...
Rafe: Basically, he's bought two products the same because Paper and the welcome thing are essentially the same.
Ewan: We are evaluating them, Blandford. That's the point of this. It's an exercise, right? So I don't know much about Netatmo yet, I haven't used it yet, but that does have smart facial recognition technology. It'll actually say, "Oh, Rafe's home." It's quite nice. Very cool.
I imagine that Netatmo will also function as a hub, I don't know that for a fact though.
Rafe: I looked at those products and actually did some research before rejecting them because I didn't want to just buy them and just try them out. I actually put some thought in pressing the click-to-buy button.
Ewan: So how do you know, right? How do you know what the best features are? The last thing I'm looking at is this Smanos.
Ewan: S-M-A- ... It's Smanos, W100 W-Fi PSTN alarm system. I don't know much more than that.
Rafe: You use lots of stuff that doesn't work with each other.
Ewan: Listen, I haven't tested it yet.
Rafe: Please tell me that you've got some really clever integrated system, and that you've actually done some DIY and done something really smart, then.
Ewan: I talked a lot about a heating last time around, so I went as far as actually ordering the LightwaveRF system and then cancelled it...
Ewan: ...because I'd read some more reviews, and the reviews were that it was not reliable enough [crosstalk 20:40]. You have [inaudible 20:42], but you haven't won that.
Ewan: You haven't won. I think you'd have a case for winning if you'd gone and wired stuff up. Bear with me. The other reason I cancelled it was, between recording the last show where we talked about this and today, Google has announced that the version 3 of Nest is coming to Europe with a whole bunch of European-specific features, including support for under-floor hydronic heating, an early-on feature, and basically, there are two things that I said I wanted, which was ... One was support for under-floor heating, which we have in our house, and the other one was the system smart enough to learn that it should turn the under-floor heating off before the room reaches temperature. When you've stuck a load of hot water under the floor, you don't need to keep heating it to keep warming the room.
Ben: Does it have to learn? So it does it once?
Ewan: It does it a few times, and it learns, and what it knows is probably, that actually ... Heat up the floor and turn it off, all before I've got up. That's enough to be enough warmth in the floor to actually last five or six hours. Those two features alone are absolutely fantastic. They are new features in version 3, additionally, the European version of 3, it actually seems like they're beginning to split the products to have some European-specific features in now, will also control hot water, which is a pretty routine requirement for heating systems in the UK, particularly. That's not available in North America, so a whole bunch of features. I was just hovering over the, "Right, let's go. Let's get Nest." I made it that far, because that is a fantastic set of features, but something is niggling me that a)It's Google, and I'm not sure I want Google in my house just because I'm not sure that I trust this strategy. I want companies that I believe...
Ben: [inaudible 22:22]
Ewan: Yeah. The other problem is I have lots of zones in my house. It's a relatively new house, I have lots of zones, I've got seven thermostats around the house...
Ewan: Because every room has its own thermostat, and it's own separately-controlled...
Rafe: I didn't know that was a thing.
Ewan: It's a new build, and actually it's not me showing off, it's when you build a new home to get planning consent in some part of the UK, you have to show that the house is very green in order to get permission to build it, and that's one of the things the people who built my home ... Nothing to do with me, but that's what they do to show energy conservation, "We're only going to heat rooms that you're in."
That's great, but that's going to be very, very expensive to put nests in all those rooms.
Ben: The Hive is 99 pound per zone, and they only do three, you think?
Ewan: That's why I can't have Hive, because the Hive won't support enough zones. The other problem, of course, is that both Hive and Nest have a thermostat on a wall, and they'll gain the temperature from that thermostat, and they might ask the temperature from other thermostats.
If you go upstairs into my house, it's much more traditional kind of build. One thermostat in the whole, and lots of bedrooms. They're all getting warm with their door shut, and this ludicrous thing of having a thermostat well away from where the heating is. What I really wanted was a control system where you have thermostats actually in every single room, controlling the individual radiators, where you have radiators.
I am now favoring ... Rafe's right, this is probably going to take me the whole season to choose the one I want to buy, but it's going to be an investment of several hundred pounds, so I'm going to choose it carefully. Probably going to go with a Tado system, which is like Nest, it's a European-originated product, multiple thermostats, controlled, managed heating, under-floor, and all those sorts of things.
Very similar apps, all that sort of stuff, but crucially, it also, next year, is going to support individual valves on individual radiators. It has all of the features I want, and it's also a European first. Of course, there's a real appeal of getting Nest products because Nest is such a...
Ben: The brand.
Ewan: It's the brand ... It's the one everybody supports. That's what I haven't done [crosstalk 24:22]. I thought, "I can't come today having done nothing." [crosstalk 24:27]
Ben: If you'd just done [way bolts 24:28], that's not that good.
Ewan: I've also decided I am going to have LightwaveRF in my house for my lighting. The lighting system for LightwaveRF works brilliantly, and I've got lots of retrofit light sockets that I'm going to have, and that works really well. Now, I've got Rafe's problem.
Ben: You've decided?
Ben: You haven't done anything yet.
Ewan: That's on order. That's a sizeable investment as well. My problem is ... all of these things need to glue together. I don't want what I think you've got, which is lots of [crosstalk 24:59]. I don't want what you've got, which is lots of disparate products that don't talk to each other. I'm going to need to think about how these things join together. You know me, I'm a bit of an Apple fanboy at the best of times, so I've decided...
Ben: Triple the cost.
Ewan: My standard is going to be Home Kit, that's the Apple home ... smart home standard. LightwaveRF is getting Home Kit integration next year, so that big tick.
Rafe: If you buy it now, it will get it.
Ewan: I'll come to how we fill in the gap in a minute. Tado is going to get it.
Ben: This is T-A-R-D-O?
Ewan: Tado, I would say Tado ... Is going to get it. Actually, LightwaveRF also has it if it was going to do the heating system as well. Nest doesn't have it. Doesn't have home [crosstalk 25:51}
Rafe: Google, obviously.
Ewan: What I've decided is I need some kind of hub like Rafe's Smart ... Like your Smart Things thing. I've got a Raspberry Pi, and I've put Home Bridge on it, and Home Bridge is a bit of software that basically knows about all the smart devices in the house, and makes them all Home Kit compatible.
Ben: That's interesting.
Ewan: Basically, what you do is you...
Ben: Did you have to buy a Pi yourself and install stuff on it?
Ewan: I did, yes. Actually, I installed it on a Mac laptop to begin with, but [inaudible 26:25].
Ben: [inaudible 26:26}, but carry on.
Ewan: Yes, but this is the thing: I can't have a polished commercial product that does all of the things. At best, I'm going to have to...
Ben: [inaudible 26:36] hasn't made it yet.
Ewan: I'm going to have to have a amazing lighting and terrible heating, or vice versa, but I can't have my requirements met brilliantly everywhere. I'm going to need to integrate it, and either I'm going to integrate it through a commercial product like Smart Things, or a homebrew one. For now, for the moment, we've got homebrew.
Ben: That's very interesting. Really valuable.
Ewan: Got that, and I thought, "Well, I can't come and tell you about I've installed Home Bridge." I've decided, I went out and bought some Belkin Wemo Wi-Fi adapters, and I looked around I said...
Ben: They're massive though, aren't they?
Ewan: No, they're quite ... Actually, they've got a lot smaller recently, but of all the ones I've seen, they are the smallest you can get in the UK. That's important, because the US ones are often a lot smaller form factor. What I'm going to do, is I'm going to home automate my Christmas tree. That's it, I'm going to have...
Rafe: Okay, I'm impressed now.
Ewan: ..automated home Christmas lights. Not just rubbish, tap up on the app, turn the plug on. That's rubbish, because I can already hear your voice telling me that's rubbish. I said, "The way to get Mrs. Smith to agree to this is to make it as cheap as possible. What's the cheapest Wi-Fi connected plug?" Wemo. What's the problem with Wemo?
Ewan: It's proprietary. It's not Home Kit enabled. Got a Wemo plug, integrated that with my Home Bridge server to make it Home Kit enabled.
Rafe: Did that work?
Ewan: Then, link that up to a Home Kit app on my phone.
Rafe: Is that an Apple one, or just a...
Ewan: All Home Kit-enabled apps will manage all Home Kit-enabled [crosstalk 28:06].Actually, I'm using the Elgato one. Elgato, you probably remember them ... They also used to do TV antennas.
Rafe: I bought one of them years ago, never really worked.
Ewan: Did they? They also do a range of smart Home Kit at the moment. Very little of it's available in the UK, but it's app, so I'm using the Elgato Eve app. Well, that's great when I'm in my house, but I want to control my Christmas tree from anywhere that I am.
Ben: You can only do it in-network?
Ewan: Yes, because it's obviously it's over Wi-Fi, so the devices all have to be on the same Wi-Fi network.
Rafe: That's why a lot of people have the hub, because it allows for out-of-home control.
Ewan: Exactly. But of course, when you've got a DIY hub, it doesn't allow for [inaudible 28:46] control, but if you have an apple TV...
Rafe: Oh, my, this is getting really complicated. Go on.
Ewan: Stay with me.
Rafe: We've got some distance to go here.
Ben: Lot of string going on. You have an Apple TV?
Ewan: If you've got an Apple TV, and you synchronize and you use KeyChain, so you have all your passwords and everything encrypted and synchronized over iCloud, it will make it available to your phone over iCloud.
Rafe: Make what available, sorry?
Ewan: All your Home Kit devices will be available over iCloud.
Rafe: Okay, that's quite interesting and concerning I think, to an extent, but carry on.
Ewan: The point about, of all the standards, Home Kit has some fantastic security settings. Everything's encrypted, all the devices are PIN coded. If it's a Home Kit-enabled device, you can control it via an app, but you can also control it over Siri.
Rafe: Ah, voice control [crosstalk 29:38].
Ewan: Give you a little demo.
Ben: Okay, go on.
Ewan: Turn on the Christmas tree.
Ben: If this works, that'll be really impressive. Speaker 4: Okay, the Christmas tree is turned on.
Ben: Oh, that is ... That is really impressive. Okay, go on, turn it off, then.
Ewan: Turn the Christmas tree off. Speaker 4: Okay, the Christmas tree is turned off.
Ben: Okay, so kudos, kudos.
Ewan: Let me just explain that, then. My voice to Siri, Siri to iCloud, iCloud to Apple TV, Apple TV to Home Bridge server, Home Bridge server to Wemo, plug to my Christmas tree. Bang, live demo on 316Podcast.
Rafe: Impressive. Can I ask how long it takes to actually go through that process. What's the latency like?
Ewan: I did some testing inside my house with the Wi-Fi turned off, so I tested over 3G, but sitting next to my Christmas tree so I could see it working. We just done that demo, my wife is now going mad because the Christmas tree is flashing at home.
Ben: Trying to tell her something.
Rafe: When the Christmas tree flashes...
Ewan: I did warn her that this was going to happen.
Rafe: I will be on the train.
Ewan: To answer your question, Rafe, I tested it about 10, 15 times on a couple of days. I've actually left the server up and running, because also I thought, "[inaudible 31:03], how reliable is it?" The plug is turned off before the voice announcement has finished speaking, every time.
Rafe: Okay, that's impressive.
Ewan: Between two and three seconds.
Rafe: Without wishing to get too technical, in terms of the smart home integration, there's actually really two forms that you need to think about. There's stuff that happens locally, which generally happens on your hub or when devices talk directly to one another. You've actually got this with Nest, the works with Nest products tend to talk directly to each other, and actually, with Smart Things, it's happening through the hub.
Something happens to a sensor and it turns on a light bulb, but with some of the third party products, you typically get cloud-to-cloud integrations where by it's actually going out to the cloud, talking to another cloud, then coming back into the home. They can have some quite serious latency on them.
I'm using cloud for the Netatmo, and actually it's pretty instant, and because temperature sense is not that big a deal, but if you use If This Then That for triggering or doing these kind of integrations, which some people are using, and I've used it for a couple of things, but haven't come up with anything that it can only be done that way.
For example, the Emerson Echo, which is kind of the smart speaker that Emerson come up with and is shipping in the States, can be used for the voice control, and then doing cloud-to-cloud on the smart things. Actually, the latency can be five or six seconds or, with If This Then That can be anything up to five, ten minutes. Obviously, that rules out quite a lot of applications. It's interesting to hear that your homebrew solution is actually able to do things within a few seconds, which is good enough for something like a Christmas tree.
Ewan: It surprised me how quickly it worked, but of course, the point is that also makes it fragile as well. What's happening there over iCloud is a real-time connection over iCloud back to my homebrew server. If the server goes down, or if there's any connection issue, like say my broadband goes out or something, that switching on or off is going to fail. There's no buffering of that command there.
Rafe: I think we should probably own up to some of the problems we've been having with the systems.
Ben: Before you get to that, I think there's one thing you might want to look at. Have you seen nCube?
Ewan: I think that might be what you need, Ben.
Ben: This is an integration ... It's one hub to rule them all, I've Kickstarted it, I think it was 69 pounds.
Ewan: I saw you supported this in The Week.
Ben: It claims, because I haven't seen it yet, it claims it's an app and a little hub, little brew hub, that will work with everything.
Rafe: But then it's actually...
Ben: It actually might own everything.
Rafe: That's what Smart Things actually does, and it's a shipping product. It's not that different to nCube, because I had a look at that. There are quite a lot of these products that claims to do everything. There's a couple in software, we've actually had one of our listeners tweet to us about [muzzle 33:47] I think it was, and there's a couple of other, Yo Me, all of which seek out the standard ones and try and do things, especially over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The thing about smart home is actually there are a lot of competing standards, which is one of the problems we've come across.
Ewan: One of the reasons I went homebrew is because, to get the best integration at the moment, you need people who are prepared to basically hack other people's standards. A lot of this stuff is working because enthusiastic amateurs have sat down and revers engineered the protocol, or worked out how it works and implemented it. In one respect, that makes it the most flexible, but in other respect, it makes it very fragile as well.
Ben: I just want it to work, I really want service level.
Rafe: That fragility is actually a good point, because Smart Things, as I alluded to, has only been launched six weeks now in the UK. There was a problem whereby oAuth wasn't working for authentication with cloud-to-cloud. That ruled out quite a lot of services. They fixed that, then Present sensors weren't working, so the key fob that Ewan talked about only started working properly and accurately four or five days ago.
I actually created some routines to get around that, which is great for the flexibility of the system, but it does feel like it's a bit of a beta product. Actually, this is the next bit, if you read the reviews, it's very common in the spa-home space, that things will fall over unexpectedly for what feels like, to the consumer, no particular reason. It's often because there is an app component, there's a hardware component, and there's a cloud component, and any one of those fails and the system will stop working, especially on the automated stuff where it's not someone doing remote control, which is quite easy to make work.
As soon as you start getting the thing to make a decision for you, it does get a lot more fragile, and I think it'll be really interesting when we all live with our systems for another month or so to see how that actually pans out. I know I've created problems for myself by the way I set things up, but also the fragility of the system was a bit of an issue.
Ewan: I want to ask you about the problems, but I have to fess up that I did not discover most of what I've discovered. I've been reading, and reading in forums. There's a chap I know called Ben Dobson who I have to credit with giving me the initial idea for the Home Kit-Wemo solution, but there's some fantastic write-ups out there, and I'll link those in the show notes. What amazed me is how well Home Kit just worked because...
Ben: That's the Apple thing, though, isn't it?
Ewan: It is, but all the reviews says it's horribly fragile, and when it doesn't work, it just completely goes to pot. When it does work, and the iCloud syncing, the recognizing the devices, the turning things on and off, the status reporting, because that's the other problem with these devices. You don't want to just give them a command, you want to know what state they're in. If a device is Home Kit enabled, you don't need the hub because the device, your iPhone talks to all of them directly, you don't need the hub. You only need the hub when you do things like what I'm doing, which is, basically, making fake devices on a network that then passed on some other protocol to other devices. Wemo isn't Home Kit-enabled, so I need a little server that kind of creates a fake switch, that then proxies on the commands to the Wemo. Mine worked quite quickly, but I am stuck to a Raspberry Pi [inaudible 37:04]. Rafe Blandford, I am intrigued ... I have only ever had a bad experience with motion sensors. I'm the guy who stays late in the office and all the lights turn off because I have to jump up and down every fifteen minutes. Come on, fess up.
Rafe: You have to be quite careful with the way you write the routines to do things.
Ewan: Do you?
Rafe: Yes, and you find yourself getting increasingly complex. One of the ones that I misconfigured, and it took me a few days to sort it out, was there was a particular motion sensor in the hallway that, every time I walked past it, it would play a weather forecast over my Sonos system, which I was quite proud of, because it was a useful thing to do, but it did take me quite a long time to discover a little switch that said, "Only do this once a day."
Ben: That was the idea for ... You got off the toilet [inaudible 37:52] the morning. "It's raining outside." "I don't care!"
Rafe: There's been a couple of examples of that because I've now been playing with it for a couple of weeks and it's ... Actually buying it and installing it. There's partly this thing about ... I want to install more sensors, but there' actually a cost to doing that. There's also working out what works best, and not surprisingly, it varies between weekdays and the weekend. I've actually ended up taking rules out and simplifying things down. The thing that actually is giving me the most value is the lights turning on automatically when I get home. That's really nice, and then, in the morning, having them turn on gradually, and then at night, just turning on ... A bit dimmed to a lower setting. I'm talking a lot about lights, but that's because it's the delegated decision, it's doing things based on where I am in the house, what I'm doing, and that's most useful. The remote control, honestly, I haven't really used that very much. The only thing I've used it for, really, is the variable issue, which is when I go to bed, it's ... press the good night function, and that will switch off all the lights around the house.
Ben: I really want that because, in our house, if I look out my bedroom window, I can actually look down onto the roof of our kitchen, because our kitchen is a single story piece out the back of our house. You're saying that, you look out the window, you think, "God, what a beautiful view across the fields as the stars twinkle ... Oh, I left the bloody kitchen lights on." And I've got to out, downstairs, right, and there's just one light, the foghorn in the kitchen on, I want a good night feature. But actually, Ewan, I have a theory now that Rafe is trained like Pavlov's dog now, because after several weeks, every time he goes to the toilet, he hears a weather forecast. If we play a weather forecast now, he's going to run out to the bathroom.
Rafe: It does feel a bit like that, but this function, and grouping things together, is definitely one of the values of smart home. Traditionally, we're used to doing a switch, and I'm sure we've all got that good night routine where you switch off the TV, the stereo, and the rest of things like that, but having everything on a single switch.
Then, there's this ... Mentioned this gentle wake-up alarm, switches it into morning mode, and that morning and night mode are essentially the two discrete functions I have. Now there's also an away mode where, basically, nothing will trigger. That's great because let's say you have the lights on and it doesn't play the weather forecast in the middle of the night, which is a real benefit.
Now I have become slightly obsessed by wanting to tie things into this system, and I do look enviously at some of the standalone products that allow you to do more. For me, I've gone for this particular hub. There is Nest, which has the Nest cam, and they use the Nest protectors, Present sensors and things like that.
There is a choice to be made, and there's also, if you read some of the smart automated [inaudible 40:36], there are still proprietary systems that you put in from the get-go, and that's actually the only way to achieve this full automation without extensive work. It feels like such a complex base. Honestly, I feel like I'm really struggling to make the smart decisions.
Ben: Ewan, I'm not averse to spending money on tech when I think it's going to do a job for me, but I keep looing at these things at the moment and thinking, "I actually only want to buy the surface mounted, stick-on, temporary, removable, easy alternate." Like the Smart Things.
Ewan: Smart Things, they have got that consumerist thing working.
Ben: But I want to do that, because this stuff is iterating so quickly, and is changing so quickly that I wouldn't want to be buying a whole home system. If I was in the position of saying, "Right, going to rip the walls off and put wires and sensors in." I'm not, believe me. That really is a long way away from where we're at, I don't think I'd do that now.
Ewan: It's immature.
Ben: It's too immature, and even if you put wires in ... Our house is relatively modern, and it has a little bit of internet ... Cat5 wiring in the walls, but even three years after it's built, the wiring doesn't go behind the tellies because nobody thought you'd want internet-connected tellies.
Ewan: Why would you want that?
Ben: The wiring goes from the place where the phone line is to the office. Of course, because you want to connect your office to the internet, and so it just shows how shortsighted ... Any kind of physical installation just makes me think, "That's a big commitment, and I want to be absolutely certain it's going to be useful for a long time."
Rafe: It was really interesting, so talked about Home Kit and you said 2016, and actually that's the big thing about Home Kit: it basically isn't here yet. It's going to arrive next year, and much the same can actually be said for Google Thread and Weave, which is kind of their overlying thing on the top. There's actually Nest Weave, which is kind of the subset of that, which is getting there. 2016 is a good time to start looking at this stuff, but I would suggest the time to start making investments may be later on. If you're doing it now, you're definitely going to be the early adopters. The equivalent to buying one of the first smartphones.
Ben: I've demonstrated the Siri integration there, even for an Apple product it's really clumsy. I have to pick the nice, Christmas tree in my example, was the name of my switch that turns the Christmas tree lights on. I have to be really careful that I don't pick a reserved word. Siri has a hierarchy of things that it will do, and if you pick the wrong one, it'll just do the wrong thing, or if you get the syntax wrong. When it works, it's fantastic, and you can learn what works and what doesn't work, but it's very, very immature at this stage.
Ewan: Also, if you have a partner that obsesses over wires, as I do, when I put the Paper system in the kitchen, "What's this?" She says. I said, "We're just demonstrating this." "What's it doing ... with wires?" "Because it needs to be powered." I think she'd be happy if it just sat there on its own, but not ... Because it's plugged in, we've got, for some reason, in this new kitchen, we've got plug sockets, but you can't use them, so we don't have a kettle because it has to be smooth worked up, despite having these plug sockets, which now are redundant.
Ben: I have the opposite thing, which is I showed this voice-activated Christmas tree to my wife, who was not at all impressed because, "Use the button, it's just there. You could just press it." Now, she's taking every time I leave a light on in a room I'm not in, she walks around the house and says, "Oh, is this one voice controlled, as well? Could you turn it off?" The wife sarcastic factor has ramped up. Very quickly, because we're over time, we've gone long this week, what are you going to do next to win the smartest home challenge?
Ewan: I'm going to look at Logi, L-O-G-I, which I saw in Dixon's Tax Free, which is a little camera that again sits in the kitchen or your place of living. One of the things that really caught my eye was daily summaries. It will give you a little summary video of what happened in that day.
Ben: Right, Blandford?
Rafe: There's two things I want to look at, is actually looking over the longer term, some of the sensors so I can understand the behavior of my house, and then start to make better decisions around some of the routines. I do quite fancy the idea of having some kind of camera in order to get live security type stuff.
Then it's just adding more sensors, both presence, but also the contact sensors which open and close. I want to take a few things and turn the smart home, and make it not so connected to the digital world. Perhaps have a cube sitting on the table that enables me to switch the lighting scenes or to turn on a certain [play 45:03]. Things like that that make it more acceptable to non-techie users.
Frankly, there is the whole ... It's expensive, but adding additional components like having another Sonos so that it works between multiple rooms, which is something you want to do with Sonos anyway. Once you start automating these things and having stuff triggering when you're doing things, or something happens actually makes you want it more, which is a bit of a problem. I'm going to have to watch the budget very carefully, indeed.
Ewan: I'm wary of adding more devices, because every time you add a device, you find you're working around the bugs of two systems or three systems, and you always get the lowest common denominator. The two things I want to do: one is I'd like to add Sonos into the homebrew system that I've built because...
Ben: Highly compatible.
Ewan: Home Bridge will front up a Sonos system, but it's still very immature at this stage, but I really want ... When I turn on the Christmas tree, I want Christmas music as well from the Sonos.
Rafe: For the whole day?
Ewan: Just when I turn it on, just for the effect when visitors are coming. Siri, make it Christmastime. The other one is, I've done a few [inaudible 46:06], where I live, we're very rural. I have masses and masses of power cuts, like literally one a week, and they happen for several hours overnight. What I want is to see if there's any smart home equipment that's for emergencies or during power outages. For example, what I would really like would be for lights that can be switched on when they lose a Wi-Fi connection, or something like that, like a security or exit lighting or something like that.
Ben: Interesting, okay.
Rafe: There's actually quite a few smart light bulbs will turn on, having a battery inside them, when they lose power.
Ewan: Something like that in our hallway, just so to give you time. We're all set up, we've got the torches, we've got the standby kit, it's all quite normal.
Ben: You got a generator?
Ewan: We haven't, but that actually might become the next ep, but I just want some sort of slightly left field, emergency stuff. I've got UPS's and all those kinds of things coming out of my ears, and all the important stuff has got batteries in it that last for hours and hours and hours, but next thing is a smart home stuff that responds well to power failure.
Rafe: One final thing I'd do, I've alluded to how difficult it is to know about all this stuff, the most important stuff coming down the road. I'm going to go to CS, which is the biggest trade show for consumer electronics, and I will report back on what I think will be the big smart home things for 2016. I'm not really expecting to see stuff I'll be able to install, but I think it'll be interesting to see what trends there are, will this be the year of smart home? I was there last year and it was definitely present...
Ben: Building, wasn't it?
Rafe: ...worked with Nest, but I suspect it will be really stepping up this year, so I'll report back in a future episode.
Ben: Well, we've gone really long, apologies for that, hopefully as you recover from your turkey coma, you don't mind listening to us a bit longer this week. I'm feeling pretty positive, I think I've ... Definitely making a good case for smartest home having been, on note, the only one to give a live demonstration on the show.
Ewan: I can switch my lights on and off now if you need.
Ben: No, they're actually for sale chief, missed your boat. As ever, thanks very much for listening, you can find us 361podcast.com, you can leave us a voicemail there or you can email the show, you can get us @361podcast on Twitter, we're also on Facebook, thank you very much for listening. We will be back next week, have a lovely New Year and rest of Christmas break if you're on your holidays. If you're back to work, sorry to hear that. We'll be back next week, bye bye.