Welcome to another Friday update. I am rather pleased about the feedback I received from the last release of Ask Alexa. Looking at my website stats, this is the BIGGEST volume of installs in a while, with 100 unique new users per day either upgrading or installing the software. While we did have some minor issues at the beginning, none of them were earth shattering and people have been sending me a lot of nice compliments about this new version, specifically the ability to identify the speaker you are talking to. Be sure you have the latest IDE code (2.3.9c for Ask Alexa and 1.0.4a of the Rooms/Groups Extension ). Now, watch this:
Pretty much what I showed last time? Not so much….notice I don’t have any visible invocation. Well, actually, I do…it is the word ‘here’…but now that you have the ability to identify where ‘here’ is, you can do some fun stuff. VERY smooth and natural syntax! And the same commands will give you unique actions for every room!
The latest version of Ask Alexa has the functionality built in to do the above, but it is ONLY for advanced users at this point as it requires you to build yet another set of skills called “here”, “room”, “group” (if you want all of those names available). I am really waiting for the next few versions of Ask Alexa where we will be creating an auto deploy function as that is the ‘future’ of getting skills installed…especially since I spend a good amount of time revising the documentation as Amazon just LOVES changing their developer and AWS consoles. However, if you demand it, I will release a version that allows you to set this functionality up manually.
Anyway, along with the feedback about Ask Alexa this week, I have received a lot of questions about my ‘opinions’ about other things SmartThings and beyond. I appreciate that people care what my opinion is, but not 100% sure WHY it matters what I think However, since these questions are rather consistent, I thought I would answer them publicly:
Q: What do you think about Hubitat?
A: Just like a lot of you, I am looking at it…sometimes MORE when SmartThings goes down, so a LOT lately :). I have spoken to Bruce over there, along with some other employees/owners. In addition, I have joined their forum and I am actively looking at them for a condo vacation home I just purchased. I have 100+ devices in my primary house and not sure I would gain a benefit and I wouldn’t be able to add all of my devices. I believe Hubitat is on the right path, but so is SmartThings! As a developer, I am going to get more installs and visibility via SmartThings than Hubitat. I really recommend you read this posting from @tgauchat over in his ActionTiles forum…his views match mine about Hubitat: https://support.actiontiles.com/communities/12/topics/3345-support-for-hubitat
Q: Is running in the cloud the right thing to do for SmartThings (Or Is local where it is at)?
A: This is less about SmartThings and more about what YOU expect from your system. Remember, SmartThings’ service is FREE…we bought the hub and they actually have NO obligation to provide any service level or uptime. There is, of course, an expectation, but not by the letter of any contract you or they signed. Quite honestly, my system has been rather stable for a couple years and my expectations are rather modest considering I pay nothing for the service. Hubitat, at first, talked about premium service. I actually think that is a great idea!!! It would then be a contract for what you pay vs what you can expect. But they have since pulled back that thought, which is ‘strange’ from my business mind in that you will at some point have market saturation and then how do you make money? Samsung can have a loss leader; start ups really can’t for very long without an income model.
Q: With one of the developers from Echosistant being back are you still going to integrate the features from their apps.
A: Not sure why this keeps getting asked. Jason has already stated he is not longer developing Echosistant ([DEPRECATED] Ask Alexa 2.3.8), and the development of the NEW version (v5) was transferred to Tony a while back, and he is the one who I am partnering with. As such, we are continue to find areas where Ask Alexa can improve. So, basically we are still on the same plan. One thing I do know is that many of the new installs this last week were folks that were transitioning from Echosistant and they are enjoying it!
Q: Amazon last week released a new ‘brief’ feature allowing very little feedback after an action. Can this be integrated into Ask Alexa.
A: Ok….done….about a year ago: http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=Ask_Alexa#Give_Brief_Device_Action_Reply
Literally…this was something that I have had in my app for a LONG time. If there is one fault of Ask Alexa it is that it is feature rich. If there is something you think it should do, just let me know. About half the time the ability is already in there.
Q: What is the future of Ask Alexa
A: I get the feeling there a few things being asked in this question. First…no…I have no plans to jump ship or to stop support for Ask Alexa. As mentioned above, Hubitat is interesting technology. However, if I wanted local execution and control I would take some of the numerous Raspberry PIs I have and do something open source. The technology around home automation is rather mature (zwave/zigbee)…it is the SOFTWARE that really makes the system work. And SmartThings is 3-4 years ahead of Hubitat. That is NOT to say that another system can’t take over, and Hubitat looks like a worthy contender!
The other part of this question really comes down to where I see the roadmap for Ask Alexa. Tony and I have already started conceptualizing the next version BIG version of Ask Alexa. It will probably be more web based, and use the latest technology like the new SmartThings APIs.
For the current version (2.x.x branch), I will continue to tweak it, adding features that improve its overall operation based on community feedback. However, my hope has always been that Amazon’s CORE software would do everything that I need it to. Right now, I see NOTHING on Amazon’s roadmap for the level of reporting that Ask Alexa gives you, and if you are deep into WebCore, nothing out there will give you the flexibility to trigger your pistons like Ask Alexa. Finally, Ask Alexa will always COMPLIMENT Amazon with their features. When notifications come out, that opens a lot of new items I can add to better integrate the other apps out there (like Big Talker) into your Ask Alexa eco system (slight pun intended). Either way, I expect the next year to be BIG for Ask Alexa.