Continuing the discussion from Wink Relay or is there something better?:
Alexa enabled devices are quickly becoming a major component of the smart home “Mesh.” Any thoughts on their future role in HA?
In my opinion Amazon needs to do a couple of vital steps before they can really rule the world.
- allow the Alexa devices to independently talk to other devices
- make all of the features of EchoSistant native to Alexa
“Mesh” is a technical term that doesn’t apply to any of the Alexa-enabled Devices, whether made by Amazon or not, as all of those use Wi-Fi, which is not a mesh topology for end Devices.
I know that sounds picky, but it’s actually super important when it comes to platforms like SmartThings, because you need to know which devices are using a mesh in order to know where to place repeaters.
So the answer to the question of “whether Alexa will be central to the home automation mesh?” is always going to be no: it’s not a mesh device.
As far as the answer to the question which I think is what is intended, will Alexa be central to home automation setups, the market is already telling us that yes, it is, for now. Even the professionally installed systems like control 4 are adding Alexa capability. And many companies which are making HomeKit – compatible devices are releasing models that also work with Alexa, including Philips, Lutron, and Leviton.
As to whether Alexa will be important in the future, it will be important until something better comes along.
The barrier to replacement for echo is very low, which is the mirror side of the fact that it’s so easy to add things to it. For example, if you want to add google home now, you can do so and having previously had echo adds zero extra work to the set up for the Google home.
That’s not true if, say, switching from homeseer to SmartThings, where each individual device has to be first excluded it before it can be included.
But if you previously used a Phillips hue bridge with echo and now you want to visit with Google home, you just add it to google home.
While all of the extra features in EchoSistant are very cool, they’re not necessary. Current estimates are that Amazon has already sold about 11 million Alexa Devices.
BTW, I would add that for me by far the most interesting part of the echo story is that it shows the unpredictability of trendlines in the space.
Prior to the echo’s release, Voice control was seen as something fairly frivolous with regards to home automation. The really expensive systems didn’t have it. There were people (including me) who needed it for physical reasons, but those systems were almost all designed around The idea of wearing a headset and using a dragon variation. General purpose voice control was available through Siri or Android, but again, you needed to have the microphone within about a foot of the speaker. The other standalone devices like Ubi just weren’t very good, and were seen more as toys.
You can see a lot of discussion about voice control options in one of the older forum threads:
Then came echo. With farfield recognition, a bunch of patents, A nine microphone 360° array, and a really astonishing farfield voice recognition technology at a price under $200, it was an absolute industry disruptor. Now voice was practical and affordable. And it worked really well for most people, including children, those who stuttered, those with a slight slur. Most people. It changed everything. So much so that a year later home automation systems that sell for $50,000 or more felt compelled to add Alexa compatibility. And builders that were offering HomeKit – enabled smart home packages were choosing devices that also worked with Alexa. Suddenly everyone was talking about voice control, from air-conditioner makers to Light switch designers. It was a huge paradigm shift for the whole industry.
Again, I don’t know if the echo itself will be the primary means of voice control for home automation in three or four years. It may not. But voice control will be part of almost all home automation systems moving forward, and that’s down to echo for sure.
When voice control didn’t work very well, everyone was talking about intelligent automated routines that would dynamically change the state of devices without any intervention on the part of the resident. But once voice control technology improved to the point where it really does work, suddenly every manufacturer sees the advantages of it! A very interesting industry shift.
I have to sort of agree and disagree…
Imagine having the features of EchoSistant without having to install and invoke a skill.
All of the feedback, the customizability of your system…
I had ok google running on my android tablet. It was balky at best. It was cool, but could not hear you across the room. And that obviously was the issue. The Echo mic array is a game changer, which facilitated a game-changing software and interface model. The Dot form factor means that you can put it anywhere, cheaply. And so the bleeding edge and leading edge are already integrating voice interaction - which is clearly THE most natural of all interaction models (it is used by virtually the entire animal kingdom). So I think that as long as Amazon ensures Alexa keeps progressing, Alexa will be a strong and growing component of HA going forward. And Bezos hardly seems like the type who would let Alexa fall into irrelevance. In fact, I’ve recently noticed that “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question” is far less frequent than it used to be.
The real question is will WiFi devices supplant the Zigbee and Z-Wave devices in popularity and will Bluetooth ever become a real contender. This is a consumer marketing issue and the Echos, Google Home, etc. will have an advantage because of simplicity and these devices (currently) only support WiFi connected devices. So, they may win.
HOWEVER - Alexa is very limited and fails completely in customized automation. Also, if you get more than 10 or so devices, remembering all of the names and managing the groups becomes more cumbersome. I will take SmartThings and items that integrate with SmartThings (even if I write the code). Samsung just needs to get their act together in two areas:
a. More robust LAN support.
b. Bluetooth / bluetooth radio support (probably using the USB connector on SmartThings to put the latest and longest range available).
Thank you, JD. Great Insights. I remember 25 years ago hearing how voice control would soon dominate the computing world. I for one am excited to see what the future holds for HA.