It is just over a year since Amazon introduced Alexa to our lives. She wasn’t the first digital assistant to enter the home but thanks to Amazon’s heavy marketing and low prices she is arguably the most prolific. Homes up and down the country can be heard asking Alexa for jokes or simple reminders but with a little thought and effort the smart home can offer so much more.
Smart lightbulbs are the first obvious addition to the Smart Home line-up and often feature in Amazon’s marketing – “Alexa turn the living room blue”. It’s a great party trick but with the use of a service called IFTTT you can command your lights to work for you.
IFTTT, which comes as a mobile app or accessed via a browser, is short for ‘If This Then That’. As the name suggests this enables you to tell your devices “if this happens then do that”. Each set of commands is called an Applet and when tied into your existing services they expand their functionality beyond the simple on\off commands.
Are you always getting caught without an umbrella? Place a lamp by the front door and use an applet to turn the light blue if it is going to rain that day. Enjoy watching sport at home? Get your living room lights to flash your team’s colour every time they score. Do you count your steps and get annoyed if you don’t hit your target? Turn your lights red until you hit that target.
It’s simple programming for the home – which may sound daunting but IFTTT’s simple layout and community built recipes offer the basics and enough understanding for you to branch out and make your own recipes, either from scratch or editing the many available.
Automation of the home might sound like the death of the humble remote but not so. It sounds unlikely but adding another remote control to your home can help automate things further. The Logitech Harmony Hub and Remote connect to your home network and include an IR blaster meaning you can now control devices that typically require you to pick up a remote control – i.e. nearly every device in your home entertainment system – from one remote.
A bit like IFTTT recipes, Harmony Hub has activities and these allow you to control more than one device at once. Pick up the remote, choose the activity you want and then marvel as your TV turns on, heads to the right input, followed by your Sky box turning on and heading to your favourite channel.
And this is where the real magic happens… By combining all three services you can have a number of instructions come together via an Alexa voice command. Simply use IFTTT to create a command for Alexa that invokes your Harmony Hub recipe. Alexa, if I say this then run that Harmony activity. Then you can sit back, say “Alexa, start Movie night” and watch as your TV and Amp turn on to the correct inputs and volumes, your lights change colour and dim appropriately whilst your heating turns up a couple of notches.
The only thing you need to do is get comfy and decide which film to watch.