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The Weekly Echo: Is the Internet of Things prime time ready?

The Weekly Echo: Is the Internet of Things prime time ready?

Connected Home
September 1, 2015

Hi there, and welcome to another Weekly Echo. Alexa’s got some new tricks up her sleeve again, including additional skills and multiple user support. I’ve also had a chance to test out one of the home automation products compatible with Amazon Echo, so keep reading to learn my thoughts.

Multiple account support

Your Amazon Echo can now play audiobooks and music from multiple Amazon accounts. All you need to do is go to Settings in the Alexa app and add another Amazon user to your Household Profile. Once you do that, all you have to do is say, “Alexa, switch accounts” and you can pick up where you left off by telling the Echo to read your audiobook.


Get Bay Area Rapid Transit times and guess the number

There are a couple of new skills that have been added to Alexa, including one specifically for those in the San Francisco, California bay area. You can get timetables for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system straight from Alexa’s speaker, making it easy to find out when your train leaves. The new High Low Guessing Game is also fun if you enjoy playing games with your Echo.

Home automation with the Wink hub

Now let’s talk about automating your home with the Amazon Echo. A wide variety of products are compatible with the device, including the Wink hub. Once you have your hub set up via the Wink app and then link it to your Echo in the settings, it’s as easy as saying, “Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights” when you get up in the morning. Unfortunately, the whole set up process is not as seamless and easy as it should be.

The good

Once everything is properly connected and set up, it’s a cinch to use your Echo to control your lights. You enter in the information for your Wink account, set up your groups within the Alexa app, and you’re good to go. More good news is that the customer support crew over at Wink are extremely friendly and helpful. You also don’t have to deal with a complicated menu to get a live support representative on the phone; the customer service numbers gets you straight to a real person without any button presses.

Buying a Wink hub is easy. You can order it on Amazon, or you can go to your local Home Depot to pick one up. The device retails for $49.99 ($44.68 on Amazon), and is compatible with a growing number of devices from smart light bulbs to window air conditioners. Setting it up might not be quite so easy, I’ve found.

The bad

My own experience setting up the Wink wasn’t as simple or easy as it really should have been. Wink sends out regular firmware updates to maintain and improve compatibility, and the latest update seems to be causing some troubles. In my case, the Wink hub I purchased from Home Depot would not accept the firmware update at all, even after multiple tries.

The ugly

When I got customer service involved, they were very helpful and even spent several hours trying to push the update through from their end, so I didn’t have to keep retrying. Unfortunately, they were ultimately unsuccessful. My only option was going to be sending the hub to them to be manually updated in their shop.

Up and running

I didn’t take that option, because Wink’s public relations team had reached out to me and sent me an already-updated device for testing purposes. Once I plugged it in and installed the Wink app, I was able to quickly connect all of my smart bulbs and light switches, even a couple of bulbs that the manufacturer says aren’t supported. I love the Wink hub, but it requires a bit of patience to set up. Once configured and linked to Alexa, it’s extremely easy to use.

Ready for prime time?

I’m not sure if the full Internet of Things experience is ready for prime time just yet, based on my experience. I consider myself pretty well-versed with technology, but most homeowners aren’t so experienced. The whole procedure might prove to be too frustrating for many users. With that said, this is only one such automation hub, and things might be radically different with the soon-to-be-released Samsung SmartThings hub or the rumored HomeKit hub inside the new Apple TV. I’ll keep playing around with different options, and continue bringing you my thoughts on the Internet of Things within this column, so stay tuned.

Mentioned apps

Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa
Wink - A Simpler Way To A Smarter Home
Wink - A Simpler Way To A Smarter Home

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