One of the most popular smart home controllers is SmartThings, especially the company’s newest hub, SmartThings V2. Interest in the hub was sufficient to attract the attention of Samsung, who bought SmartThings in August, 2014. Samsung recently touted SmartThings as the hub controller for many of its new smart home endeavors.
Category: Technology (Page 2 of 2)
Having heavily invested in Nest products, it’s disconcerting to read articles with titles such as Nest, Google’s $3 billion Bet, May Be in Trouble, or With $340 million in revenue, Nest is underperforming, and its future at Google is at risk. If Google dumps Nest, then who is going to maintain my Nest Protects (smoke and carbon monoxide detectors), thermostat, and Dropcam/NestCams?
The short version of the stories is that Nest is under-performing, it’s having problems with management, and talent is jumping ship. Well, Google, oh, sorry, Alphabet, can fix all of these problems: solve the management problems and work on keeping the necessary staff onboard. Alphabet/Nest also needs to roll out new products and integrate the Nest products with OnHub, which, from a smart home perspective, is dumb as a stump. Both efforts would be an interesting challenge to employees and engineer fresh interest in the brand.
I like my Nest products. I like the softly glowing green ring from my Protects when I turn out the light, letting me know they’re watching out for me. I also like that I can see how their battery is holding up just by using my smartphone. No more battery-low beeping in the middle of the night.
My one Dropcam, and a second NestCam are terrific. They’re the only video cameras I know that you can install indoors, point outdoors through windows, and get a good picture—whether daylight, or illuminated by outdoor lights. They adjust beautifully to changing light conditions, are quite responsive, and you can turn them off when you don’t need them.
My Nest thermostat is very useful…other than the one time the software glitch drained all the battery, leading to some very embarrassing moments for Nest and Alphabet. But my energy use has dropped because of the thermostat, and I have more finite control over what happens, and when.
I also have an IFTTT recipe where my Netatmo triggers my Nest thermostat to turn on the fan, when it detects carbon monoxide levels exceeding 1500ppm. No more groggy, sleepy days working at the computer.
This IFTTT capability isn’t the only new integration. I can now control the thermostat using Amazon’s Echo, and in case of a fire, the Protects trigger my Philips Hue lights to briefly turn on bright red, to wake us up, and then dim red, which is better for seeing in smoke. They also flash yellow when there’s a warning.
What’s been missing from Nest in the past was smart home integration with other products. The division is now getting its act together in this regard. It would be a shame to cut it loose when it’s just now starting to get interesting.
Come on Alphabet, if you’re going to be a multi-headed hydra, then you have to know when to step back and when to step in. If the head of Nest, Tony Fadell, is as bad as people are saying, then toss his butt into the void and bring in fresh talent. If he isn’t that bad, then defend him. Either way, demonstrate your commitment to the company. No one is going to buy your products, no matter how shiny, if people think you’re going to cut both the products and the customers, loose to fend on our own.
A good place to start showing commitment is demonstrating some new smart home magic: Nest, meet OnHub. OnHub…OnHub…wake up, OnHub…meet Nest.
Several publications have come out today, including one from the New York Times, about a software update being responsible for the battery drain. That’s one bad bug, and Nest is going to take a major credibility hit because of it.
We also had problems with our Nest Protects (smoke/carbon monoxide detection) a few weeks prior, with none of them being able to access the cloud. However, they work without wireless access, including the ability to connect and communicate with each other, so it was more of a nuisance than a problem. I do wonder, though, if the same bug didn’t get introduced into all Nest products.
In the meantime, adding a C wire didn’t work for us. It would have required too many holes being drilled, and damage to floor and wall. We’re going with the add-a-wire feature, instead.
Our home was built in 1986, which means it’s on the border between modern, new standards and the old way of doing things.
When we tried to add new GE smart light switches, we found that most of the switches don’t have a neutral wire needed to power the switches. The old, unintelligent switches didn’t need power—they’re just on or off. The new ones, need power to communicate with the controlling hub and other compatible devices.
The same applies to our thermostat: we don’t have a ‘C’ or common wire that runs from the heating/cooling system to the thermostat.
We have a second generation Nest thermostat, and not having a ‘C’ wire is supposed to not be an issue with this thermostat—at least with most HVAC systems. The device gets its power from the “red” wire (the power line) by “power stealing” a little bit of the power that comes through the line. The problem with this approach is if the system is very active, the device doesn’t have a chance to charge the battery as frequently and you can lose thermostat functionality, or even drain the battery.
The other issue is if the HVAC equipment isn’t running, at all, and the device needs power. What the Nest thermostat does is “pulse” the equipment to get a bit of juice, but supposedly very quickly, so that the equipment doesn’t come on. If this doesn’t sound like something you would want to do, you’ll get agreement from many HVAC manufacturers.
Then there’s the situation that happened last night. It was very cold, so the system was running intermittently through the night. In addition, I suspect from chatter in the Nest forum, the thermostat received a software update in the night. I also suspect that the software update drained what little power the battery had, to the point where I was faced with a completely black device this morning. I couldn’t even run it manually.
When the temperatures are below freezing, you don’t want a thermostat that doesn’t work. At this point, you’d settle for a dumb thermostat, as long as it turns on the heat.
I knew I could power the device using a micro-USB cord, connected to my computer. I connected it for about a half hour, charging the battery enough that I could connect it to the wall plate and turn on the heat. Of course, while the heat is running, the device isn’t charging, but it should have enough juice to take the chill edge off the house.
If we weren’t at home, I’m not sure if the device would have even been able to start charging without my assistance. Normally, the Nest thermostat shows a blinking red light when the battery is very low and charging, but it wasn’t showing this light this morning. It was completely drained. We could have come home to frozen pipes and damaged walls.
Assurances from Nest aside, it’s time to update our wiring. We have a couple of options. One is we could attach a Venstar Add-a-Wire Adapter, which turns a 4-wire setup into the 5-wire setup needed for smart thermostats. Or we can run a ‘C’ wire from the HVAC to the thermostat. Though the latter approach is more expensive, we decided if we were going to fix the problem, we’d do so without a hack and we’d fix it once and for all.
Tomorrow morning our HVAC company is coming out to run the new ‘C’ wire to the thermostat, and hopefully we’ll never again wake up to a freezing cold house. If we do, than the Nest thermostat is being replaced by an Ecobee.
Today, Amazon released new versions of its tablets, as well as a new Fire TV. The latter is generating interest in part because Alexa has been added to it. This means you can use the new Fire TV in a manner similar to the Echo, and be able to play favorite TV shows, too.
The new device supports the new 4K Ultra HD in addition to 1080p, promises to eliminate buffering, supports all the popular streaming apps, and has voice search enabled on the remote. I hope Amazon has improved the remote, because I’ve found that Echo’s remote is no where near as sensitive as the Echo device is, itself.
I like the video support, but I have a Roku and I don’t have a 4K Ultra HD TV, yet. What I’m more interested in, is the Alexa integration. Watching the demo video at Amazon, Alexa will display an answer to the TV rather than verbally. (Engadget notes this, also.) If you have it play music, it uses your TV’s speakers.
Of course, this is a double-edged sword. If you have an Echo and the new Fire TV in the same room, you’re going to have contention over which device answers when you call out, “Alexa…”. While watching the Amazon demonstration video, my Echo responded when the voice in the video asked, “Alexa, what’s the weather?” I’m rather hoping that Amazon gets away from only allowing one to use Alexa, or Amazon, as the device voice indicator.
I’m also assuming you do have to have the TV on for the device to work. Currently I use Echo’s timer functionality, as well as have it play music while I’m working. I wouldn’t want to turn my TV on for both. In this regard, Echo wins. Echo also has smart home integration, which the Fire TV currently lacks.
From a developer perspective, the Fire TV demonstrates Amazon’s new Alexa Voice Service Developer Preview. If you’re a developer, and you have a device with a microphone, a speaker, and an internet connection, you can interface with Alex as a service. First thing that comes to my mind is this opens up some interesting possibilities if you like to tinker around with microcomputers, such as Raspberry Pi. However, I’m not sure how open Amazon is to people tinkering with the service. The sign-up for the developer kit seems to assume you’re a developer for a company with a product to sell.
This new developer kit joins with the existing Alexa Skills Kit, where you can create an app that can be installed on an Echo (and possibly other Alexa devices, eventually), such as my favorite, Cat Facts.
Node.js developers, note that Node.js figures heavily with both kits. See? Your mad programming skills just found a new outlet to explore.
Amazon made, what I feel, is a very smart move with its recent innovations. Rather than compete directly with device companies who control marketplaces, such as Roku, it’s taking the same type of functionality (video streaming), and integrating it into the smart home controller environment. It’s similar to Google’s new OnHub, which takes Wi-Fi routing into the same environment.
Exciting times. Let’s just hope security is considered first, rather than last, with all this cross-line innovation.