How to set up smart lights & home control with Google Home

Google Home is a super smart home automation portal that works with just your voice commands. While it can play music and answer trivia questions, and much more (Read Erin’s review of the device here) it can also be used to automate and control smart home gadgets. Here’s how to get smart home devices connected with Google Home. Continue reading “How to set up smart lights & home control with Google Home”

How to Reset Your WeMo, LIFX, Philips, Osram/Lightify Light Bulbs

I ran into a wee problem with one of my WeMo LED smart light bulbs.  It was easily cleared up with a reset, but it took me some surfing to find out how to do it.

That got me thinking, you might someday need to know how to do this yourself, and possibly for other bulbs.  So here’s a few smart light bulbs and how to reset them, with instructions from each manufacturer’s website. Continue reading “How to Reset Your WeMo, LIFX, Philips, Osram/Lightify Light Bulbs”

Easy Halloween hacks; decorate with smart lights

Halloween is around the corner, and there’s an easy way to get your home ready.

Coloured light bulbs can easily transform your home into a spooky space; whether you want orange to light up your front window pumpkin, or some darker lighting scenes to create a creepier vibe. Continue reading “Easy Halloween hacks; decorate with smart lights”

What is IFTTT and what can it do for you?

iftttMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want the coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples of things it can do. One of IFTTT’s life fixes is, “IF it calls for rain, Then send me an email to let me know.”

Apps and services that work with IFTTT technology are called Channels in the IFTTT website. They range from social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, to your online email accounts like gmail, weather services, even YouTube, calendars and productivity helpers like Evernote. Not to mention WordPress (for blogging), Etsy (handmade marketplace), Fitbit and Jawbone fitness activity monitors, and Nest home automation thermostat all also support IFTTT.

IFTTT explained

How Does it Work?

Creating IF This Then That programs are called making “recipes”, and some other examples include, “If the temperature drops below zero, Then turn my Nest thermostat up 3 degrees,” “If there’s a flight deal (to a certain city), Then notify me on email,” and even, “If the pollen count is high, Then remind me to take allergy medicine,” and “If the current weather condition changes to rain, then change my Philips Hue light bulbs pastel blue.”  The possibilities are literally endless, and while you can create your own custom recipes, you can browse and use the recipes others have made on the IFTTT website too.  For a look at the full list of apps and services, or Channels that work with IFTTT, click here.

Recipes & Do Button

“Recipes” work automatically, but IFTTT also has another helper option called the “Do Button.”  Downloading and using this app allows you one-touch access to tasks you perform every day, and those actions are only performed when you hit “do”.

A cheeky way to use “Do” it is to set up a quick button that will make your phone ring when you press it.  Great for getting you out of boring meetings and awkward dates. You can also make and use a Do button to turn your Nest Learning Thermostat up or down instantly, or to turn all the connected lights in your house on at once.  But you may be asking, ‘why bother, when I can already control my devices via the app on my phone or tablet’?

As Tech Crunch describes use of the “Do” functions, “the idea here is that, yes, you can already do all of this — but in individual apps. Now you can do it in one place, and even simplify that further by adding a Do Button widget into an Android home screen or into an iPhone Notification Center.”

How Can IFTTT Technology Work for You?31D7838E-CEE5-4502-A82A-E21E5B7788C1

What if one single post to Facebook or Twitter could automate all across your various social media platforms?  What if, instead of worrying about whether you left the curling iron, or space heater on, you could automatically kill that switch as soon as you drive out of the area? What if you had a better and more specific heads-up on the weather so you could remember to pack raincoats and umbrellas? What if, as you pull onto your street on a dark night, the lights in the house could come on?  Well, in short, all of those things are possible using IFTTT, with the products and partners that support the software.

What Will IFTTT Do for Me?

  1. IFTTT saves time & effort – you now no longer need to spend extra time duplicating social media content, for example.  This is a huge time-saver for small businesses, who may want to access all their customers’ favourite platforms, without having to spend all day copy and pasting. You can also use it to automate yearly holiday posts and greetings across social media, meaning you don’t need to panic the day before Valentine’s Day, for example, if you haven’t already given clients notice of a special.  Set up all the different holiday-related posts at once, across all platforms and never worry about it again. It can also save you time and effort, by saving you a return trip back home to check that curling iron.
  2. It saves energy & money on bills – Leaving lights on all day, or appliances running, is an energy waster that does cost you cash each year.  With IFTTT, you can automate light bulbs, switches, or power bars, and from there, the appliances that you plug into them (using a set up like the WeMo home automation system).  Running appliances and lights only when you need them costs you less, and of course the longer your smart automation via IFTTT runs, the more you save. You can also use IFTTT to automate them to turn on or off when you enter or leave a geographic area, or even at sunrise or sunset in your local area (updated daily of course!)
  3. It makes you more productive – IFTTT will allow you to do things like back up your contacts automatically, so that if you ever do lose your phone, tablet, laptop or device, you can easily have a secondary backup.  (Especially handy if someone breaks in and steals both your phone and your computer!)  The Android app for IFTTT also has some unique talents. Activate this channel and your Android phone will text anyone who leaves you a voicemail—and you can have the text tell them you don’t like checking your voicemail, and they should email or text you instead. No more wasted time slogging through those lengthy voicemail messages, “Ummm, hi. It’s, ummm, me.  Ahhhhh, oh jeez, I forgot now why I was calling…”
  4. It can save you money in other ways too – with recipes like “Alert for Free iTunes Tunes” or New Free MP3s on Amazon, or emails when flights are on sale.  When things (nearly anything you may be interested in) get cheaper, you can have that news delivered directly to your inbox, Facebook messages, or via text.

What Products Work with IFTTT?

wemo kit.pngI’ve touched on some of the home products above, and how they work, but to reiterate, things like the Belkin WeMo system of light bulbs, and connected switches, including the energy-monitoring Insight switch all work with IFTTT. Just install them, get your IFTTT app and then download or make your recipes for automation. Using the WeMo motion detector, you can also set up a recipe that will text your neighbour to check on the house if the detectors are set off when you’re away.

Similarly Philips Hue colour-changing light bulbs can also be automated though IFTTT.  With Philips, you can have your bulbs change colour, depending on a situation.  Is it Valentines’ Day in your calendar?  Have you Hue bulbs turn pink and red for your sweetie.

The Nest Learning Thermostat also supports IFTTT and the “Do” button, allowing you to further automate an already great system.

Want updates on whether you’re hitting your fitness goals?  Use IFTTT with your Fitbit or Jawbone activity monitors to send you a reminder to take a walk if you haven’t hit your step goal near the end of your day. You can even automate printing of photos or documents using HP Envy printers.

The 411

Figuring out IFTTT is as easy as downloading the free app, and then surfing the site to see what apps, appliances, and services it works with that you may already have.  Check it out, and if you’re already using IFTTT to run your life, let me know what recipes are working for you!

This blog was originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog, which has since merged with Best Buy. Click here to read all the latest tech news on Best Buy’s Plug In blog.

What the Heck is IFTTT, and What Can it Do for ME?

ifttt logoMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want to coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

IFTTT Channels

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples, including what apps, products, and services work with IFTTT by clicking  HERE to read the full article on Future Shop’s Tech Blog!

Home Automation with WeMo! Review

wemo-img-overview-3Home automation used to be the stuff of mansions, tycoons and futuristic films and cartoons.  No more.  Now it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to adopt easy home automation features into your house.

What can you do with home automation ?
From controlling your thermostat, door locks, light bulbs, light switches, sockets or plugs and even a power bar, manipulating the devices in your home for security, convenience or money savings has never been more possible.

Testing out Belkin WeMo
Enter the WeMo system by Belkin, just one of several home automation hubs.  I recently had a chance to review and test several products in the WeMo line, from lights to plugs.wemo kit

Set Up
WeMo was easy to use right out of the box.  I started my testing with the Lighting Starter Kit ($99), which comes with two LED light bulbs and a hub or the “Link”. Getting things going was as simple as downloading the WeMo app (for smartphones or tablets), plugging the Link into a wall outlet, and screwing in the bulbs.  The Link connects to your homes existing wifi, and uses that signal to control your bulbs.  Once the bulbs were installed and turned on, the app found them immediately by doing a scan. Once they’re set up, they’re set up for good, even if you remove them for a time.
The app walks you through the set up, making it foolproof.

One plus of this system for me is the Link hub is tiny compared to other hubs I’ve tested; it fits in the palm of your hand, and easily blends into the wall so you don’t notice it.  It’s important to note that while you need the Link hub for the bulbs, other WeMo devices connect on their own, and need no external hub or Link.  In fact a WeMo staffer pointed out to me, “most of the existing WeMo product line doesn’t need a hub at all: the WeMo Switch, Insight Switch, Light Switch, Netcam, and Crock Pot connect directly to Wi-Fi.”
IMG_1109So why do the bulbs need one?  Simply put, the technology to connect to the wifi takes up space.  Some bulbs I’ve tested, like the LIFX system, are much larger and heavier than the average bulb.  So while those bulbs do not need an external wifi link, they do not fit in every fixture.  The WeMo bulbs do, but the tradeoff is the small Link.

The WeMo bulbs are white light bulbs only.  I’ve written before about the fun of colored LED bulbs that you can change, but for now, the WeMo bulbs are traditional.  Maybe that will change soon; having a colour option is really fun and allows you to really customize your home.

IMG_1107
Don’t use “WeMo Setup” to set up, click on “Add WeMo link Devices”

Setting up the WeMo plugs or outlets was a bit harder.  There are essentially two set up screens within the app, and for the first few attempts I was apparently using the wrong one.  I kept connecting to “WeMo Set Up Instructions”, but I needed to be using “Add WeMo Link Device”, as seen in the screen grab.  It seems like an easy mistake to make, and I figured out the error quickly enough, but I could see this being confusing and frustrating for others too.

Additionally, I found the set up screen getting locked, and having to force-quit the app in order to try again.  Then, somehow, mysteriously, the device would be connected and working.
Now, while this was frustrating for me, a person who likes to understand what’s happening each step of the way, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. After a few tries, the WeMo system took care of itself and from then on worked just fine.  Since then, I’ve had absolutely no trouble to glitches with the system; it works reliably and flawlessly.
There have been rather frequent firmware updates required; not that it’s a problem.  In fact, I like companies who are constantly trying to keep software up to date.  But it’s good to be aware you may actually need to do the firmware upgrades before the app and devices will work properly.

wemo set up screen

Easy to Use Timers, Away Function, Auto-On
One of the easiest aspects of the WeMo system is how easy it is to set up what WeMo calls Rules.  It allows you to turn your bulbs, plugs or switches on or off at appointed times, which is great if you’re going away, or frequently get up before sunrise or get home before dark.
I’ve made some rules which turn on a light in my living room, softly at 50% brightness at 3am when I get up to go to work.  I also have the same lap set to come on at sundown, and turn off later at night.  Similar rule and timer functionality is also available on the plugs/outlets. More on that below.

IMG_1110
WeMo Switch.

Testing the WeMo Switch
One of the things I like about the WeMo Switch ($49) I tested is that it’s powerful enough for me to plug in a fan or heater. Some wifi-enabled plugs only have enough juice for a lamp, so it’s good to check the packaging or details before you buy and make sure the appliance you want to plug in to the switch (from any company you buy from) is safe to use. During my testing, I plugged a small space heater in, and set a timer rule to turn on about 30 minutes before bed so the room was warm.  I also set it to shut off automatically after an hour.  Another rule setting turns it on about 15 minutes before I wake up, and off again 30 minutes after that.  That’s it; it’s ‘set it and forget it’! I have all these items functioning for me, on the schedule I decide, and the best part is that it’s easy, so very easy to program with the free WeMo app.

The WeMo Insight – It gives you data
I tested another WeMo plug; the Insight ($59).  The WeMo Insight Switch will send notifications to your smartphone or tablet showing how much energy your electronics are using. Of course, you also have the ability to turn your electronics on and off and monitor their behaviour via the app.

WeMo-Insight-Wall-Plug-In
WeMo Insight

One of the limits of home automation systems has been that you need to be at home, on your wifi network to control your devices.  But now many companies, WeMo included, are adding internet connectivity or Remote Access to the mix, allowing you to access your bulbs and switches online, meaning if you forget to turn off a light, or the heater, you can do it from the office, or from the resort in Mexico.

Other WeMo Products
While I didn’t test these below, it’s worth mentioning some other neat peripherals in the WeMo lineup.  The Crock-Pot® Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo™ works with the app to adjust cook settings. WeMo says, “if you’re stuck at work or running late, you don’t have to worry. You can turn it on and off, change the cooking temperature, set timers and watch its status all with the simple, intuitive and free WeMo App for your smartphone or tablet. WeMo works over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G, so you can easily adjust your dinner schedule whenever you like, from wherever you are.”
The Belkin NetCam works with the WeMo collection of products so you can program home automation triggers like turning on your lights when you walk through the door.  WeMo is also adding to its home automation arsenal, announcing partnerships with OSRAM, the parent company of OSRAM SYLVANIA, and Jarden Corporation, maker of
Crock-Pot®, Mr. Coffee® and more, to bring home automation to more  products.

WeMo also makes a wifi-enabled Light Switch.  The company says it ‘allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere–from across the house, from the backyard, or from the other side of the world. WeMo Light Switch replaces a standard light switch in your home and can be controlled remotely with an Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It works with your existing Wi-Fi® network and anywhere your smartphone or tablet has an Internet connection (3G or 4G LTE). Easy for most Do It Yourselfers.”

The Bottom LineIMG_1915
I thoroughly enjoyed the Belkin WeMo experience and I recommend it to others who may be looking to get started on home automation.  The system is easy to use and trouble free once it’s up and running.  Make sure to set up via the “Add WeMo Link Device” screen, and not the “WeMo Set Up Instructions”.  I’ll be watching to see when WeMo adds coloured light bulbs to its arsenal, as I’ve gotten addicted to those of late. And I’m interested to try the other products in the lineup too to see just how useful they are.
It’s worth noting that the prices I posted for these products above are recommended retail, but at the time of posting this (mid-February), there was a good deal on the devices on the Belkin website that may give you extra incentive to pick some up.  In Canada, WeMo is also available from Future Shop.

Smart Home gadgets you NEED now

wemo houseThere’s so much we can do to get our homes running smarter.  There’s any number of products that will do things for you automatically, or examples where once inaccessible technology can now be yours at home. Everything from automating your lights, to remotely locking your doors, checking the weather on demand, or even testing your food for impurities… it’s all possible now inside your own home.

techtalksmart
Tech Talk on CTV News

 

I recently had a chance to run tests in my home of several “smart” gadgets, and we showed them off on CTV Morning Live (watch HERE).  Here’s a bit about each one, and some testing notes.

Wink Hub and Pheripherals

wink hubThe Wink hub is kind of like a nerve centre of home automation.  The hub connects to your home’s wifi, and drives the Wink app on your phone.  The app then allows you to control any number of add-on devices.  I did have some initial trouble getting the hub working, but Wink/Quirky was quick to replace what was likely a defective unit and I was up and running again quickly.  Once the hub and app were in sync, I was quickly able to set up GE Link light bulbs, which allo you to use your phone to turn the lights on and off and to dim them.  I tested the soft while light bulbs, which was great, but it would be even better if the LED bulbs had colour options like LIFX or Philips hue bulbs I’ve reviewed previously.  That said, you can actually run Philips hue bulbs on the wink hub, but you do still need the Philips hub or starter kit, so it’s kind of redundant.ge link bulb

I also tested the Quirky Pivot Power bar along with the Wink hub.  It’s a wifi-enabled power bar that allows you to turn some of the outlets on or off remotely.  The Pivot also curls and pivots (hence the name!) and allows you to plug in large size plugs or transformers with ease.

The Wink system has been easy to use and program, and one of the only downsides is the large size of the hub.  I also know some reviewers have had trouble with getting the system set up initially, as I did, but the Wink/Quirky customer service folks handled things very well.

WeMo Hub and Pheripherals by Belkin

wemo-img-overview-3By comparison to Wink, the WeMo hub is tiny; it fits in my palm.  This was by far the easiest set up I’ve had lately; the hub conected instantly and without trouble.  I set up WeMo light bulbs first and they too connected instantly.  I did have some confusion setting up the add-ons like the WeMo Insight switch, but I figured out after a few minutes that the WeMo app actually has 2 screens that look like the set-up screen.  I was using the wrong one.  Once I figured that out, and got into the right one, the plugs connected easily. Once everything is connected, you can use the WeMo app to set timers for lights, or your heater, fan, you name it.  I wake for work well before the sun is up, so being able to set the lights to slowly come on, or the fan to warm the room before I get out of bed is a treat. The WeMo system is available at Best Buy, Amazon.ca and Future Shop.

ILL_WeMo_Family_v3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lapka personal environment monitor

What’s a Personal environment monitor?  The Lapka kit contains 4 sensors which measure  radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity and how organic your produce is.lapka It connects to your iPhone and the Lapka app and displays its readings on your phone.  I tested my home for radiation and electromagnetic  fields, and it came up fine.  I also used it to test some fruits in my pantry for the presence of nitrates (from fertilizer).  My biggest beef with the Lapka is that there’s not a lot of information either in the package or online about what you’re testing for, or why.  I felt like I needed an advanced degree to know what I was doing with the PEM.

Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

I really love this product, both because it looks like the most futuristic humidifier you’ll ever see, and because it was easy to use, and ABSOLUTELY QUIET.  I have a humidifier at home and it’s so noisy we need to keep it on the other side of the house from the bedroom.  The Roolen is silent.  It emits a cool mist that humidifies your home and in “automatic” or smart mode, it will automatically shut off when your home hits optimal humidity. Simple, easy and smart.  A full tank will also last almost 18-24 hours, so it only needs filling once per day. You can get one in Canada on Amazon.ca

roolen breath
Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

 

Netatmo Weather Station

netatmoThe Netatmo weather station is a neat idea for weather geeks.  One of its brushed aluminum cylinders sits unobtrusively in the home, the other goes outside, and you access their info via an app on your phone.  It measures temperature, of course, but also humidity, and noise levels indoors.  it’s also equipped to send weather alerts to your phone, but I found they didn’t work in Canada.  A neat idea for a gift if someone you know loves weather.  Add-ons include alternate temperature sensors and a rain gauge. You can read my full review of the Netatmo on Future Shop’s Tech Blog or get one on their website.