Until recently, controlling your smart home tech boiled down to apps and automation -- scheduling a smartened up lamp to turn on at sunset, for instance, or using your phone to turn it off after you've climbed into bed. But what if you could simply tell your smart home to turn it off?
It might sound like the stuff of "Star Trek" or "The Jetsons," but recent advancements in speech recognition technology have made a voice-controlled smart home completely attainable, and many of the gadgets that promise to get the job done are already available. Some come from ambitious startups while others come from the titans of the industry, but all of them want to give your smart home a set of ears.
We expect voice control to continue to play a central role in the development of the so-called Internet of Things, which seeks to connect everyday devices and appliances with each other and with their users. For now, here's a rundown of the voice-centric gadgets on the market today, along with a few potential up-and-comers.
It started as a smart speaker capable of streaming whatever music you asked it to play, but it quickly became clear that Amazon Echo was capable of a whole lot more. Sync it up with your, your , or your , and "Alexa," the cloud-connected AI that powers Amazon Echo, will help you turn things on and off with simple voice commands. There's also , the popular online automation service that'll allow you to connect Alexa with Twitter, Facebook, or . Deeper smart home integrations are sure to follow, since that allows manufacturers and tinkerers to craft their own custom uses for Alexa's voice-controlled smarts. Stay tuned -- Alexa is just getting started.
The elephant in the voice-controlled smart room is Siri, the AI assistant found in Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch. Apple granted her smart-home access with HomeKit, a set of control protocols built into the latest versions of its iOS operating system. Purchase and install a HomeKit-compatible smart-home gadget, and you'll be able to control it directly through your device by telling Siri what you want to do.
There are only a handful of compatible devices for sale so far, but more are expected to arrive this fall and next year. HomeKit's development also seems somewhat tied to, which to let you use those Siri-powered voice controls from beyond your home's Wi-Fi network. Rumors point to a possible Apple TV update in the near future, -- such a reveal might bring new HomeKit functionality with it.
Based out of the Netherlands, Athom is a startup that wants to bring voice control to the smart home via Homey, a colorful, futuristic-looking sphere. Plug it into your router, and Homey promises to control a wide range of smart home products, complete with multilingual voice recognition.
Homey surpassed its crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter back in 2014, and plans to begin shipping out beta units in September before a formal launch in October. For now, it's only available outside of the US and Canada, with a focus on European smart-home enthusiasts.
Lest you think there's only one voice-controlled smart-home sphere on the market, there's the CastleHub, from CastleOS. Billing itself as the first smart hub to run off of Windows 10, the CastleHub is basically a round PC built to control the connected home. Sync it up with Microsoft Kinect, and you'll be able to tell it what to do. If you're an advanced user, you can even program your own custom commands. Unlike Homey, CastleHub ships worldwide, but at $500 (about £320 or AU$675, converted roughly), it won't come cheap.
Insteon has a long history with the connected home and hundreds of connected gadgets to its name, but its focus on voice control is a recent development. Its first play was to partner with Microsoft and allow users to put gadget-specific Live Tiles directly into the home screens of their Windows device of choice. That also brought Microsoft's AI assistant Cortana into play -- ask her to turn off an Insteon switch or dial up an Insteon thermostat, and she'll take it from there.
Insteon also sought out voice control by hopping in with Apple HomeKit, and introducing a HomeKit-compatible version of the Insteon Hub. Plug it into your router, and you'll be able to control your Insteon devices by chatting up Siri.
Ever wish your alarm clock could do more than just wake you up? Then consider taking a close look at Ivee Sleek, a clever, connected alarm clock that responds to your voice commands for hands-free control of third-party smart-home devices, including the Nest Learning Thermostat. We liked Ivee when we put her to the test, but so-so performance soured the experience just a tad.
Another clockish spin on the smart-home voice controller, Mycroft is an open-source AI device that promises comprehensive smart-home management. Along with locks, lights and thermostats, you can sync Mycroft up with your streaming services like Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify, then stream the desired content straight to a Roku or Chromecast. And, of course, you'll do all of it just by asking nicely.
Oh, Ubi. Ubi, Ubi, Ubi. It's a product that holds a special place in the collective heart of the CNET smart-home team, but for all of the wrong reasons. With promises of smart-home voice control and quick answers to simple questions, Ubi has the look of a legitimate competitor to the Amazon Echo -- but when we tested it out, it failed to deliver. To be blunt, it failed spectacularly (and, in many cases, hilariously), with nonsensical, oddly overconfident replies to simple commands and questions (question: "What are the names of the Ninja Turtles?" answer: "Huey, Dewey and Louie.")
I can't recommend anchoring your smart home around this gadget, but I highly recommend you spend two minutes watching Megan Wollerton's video review of it.