"Alexa, turn on the porch light."
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The primary appeal of smart home tech is making your home operate much more simply and efficiently. But having tried out smart home gadgets at my own place, I can say that the novelty of turning lights on and off with your phone quickly wears itself out.
Pulling out your phone and opening an app is simply more cumbersome than flicking a switch on a wall. Yet the Amazon Echo might have cracked this problem thanks to its always-on voice assistant, Alexa. Echo allows you to control select Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, and Wink products with your voice, anywhere within earshot.
According to Wink, once you've set it up, all you need to do is say things like, "Alexa, turn on the living room lamp," and Echo will do it.
For now, this functionality is limited, but Amazon keeps a catalog of the products that the Echo works with. It currently includes Hue lights, WeMo switches and outlets, and Wink-compatible products from GE, Leviton, and Lutron. Echo also has an IFTTT channel, where users have figured out how to get Alexa to control the Nest Learning Thermostat.
Voice control—when it works, anyway—is much easier than using switches. Imagine: you sit down to watch a movie, but you've forgotten to turn off the lights. Instead of getting up and walking over to the light switch, you can just tell Alexa to do it for you.
Lazy? Maybe. But if you can get over the indignity of talking to a black plastic cylinder, controlling your home with your voice could be a real game-changer.
The truth of the matter is, in the future, there will be many ways to control your home. You'll probably use a combination of your voice, wall switches, your phone, and even smartwatches, depending on what's the most convenient solution at a given time.
Until that future arrives, voice control via the Amazon Echo might be enough to get consumers to keep using the smart features already included in their new devices.