Voice control is playing an increasingly important role in the smart home, bringing with it the ability to control your gadgets just by asking nicely. Click through for a look at some of the devices that already offer voice control of your smart-home tech, along with some of the gadgets coming just around the corner.
Essentially a smart speaker, Amazon Echo houses a cloud-connected AI assistant named Alexa. Ask her to play a song, and she'll stream it from the Amazon Prime Music Library. Ask her to look up a fact or read off the morning's headlines, and she'll do that, too. But connect her with compatible smart-home gear, like Philips Hue lights or Belkin WeMo Switches, and she turns into a smart-home superstar, turning things on and off at your every command.
Of course, Siri might have something to say about that "smart-home superstar" label. With Apple HomeKit, a set of protocols built into the latest version of Apple's iOS operating system for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches, Siri has the power to work with Apple-certified smart-home tech. Ask her to dim the lights or lock the door, and she knows just what to do (provided you've got the right hardware).
Your options are a bit limited at this point, but the list of compatible devices is growing.
Though it isn't available in the US or Canada, Homey, from Netherlands-based startup Athom, seeks to make a splash in the smart home when it ships out to Kickstarter backers this fall. Basically an orb-shaped router for your connected-home gadgets, Homey responds to spoken commands, giving you the power to manage everything with your voice.
Homey isn't the only spherical smart-home controller on the market. There's also the CastleHub, from CastleOS. Basically a PC packs into a ball, the CastleHub claims to be the first smart-home hub that runs off of Windows 10, and it promises to do just about anything you'd want from a smart home control device. That includes comprehensive voice control, thanks to an integration with the Microsoft Kinect.
Insteon is an established name in the connected home, but its push for voice control is somewhat recent. First, it paired up with Microsoft to build device-specific controls straight into the Live Tiles of Windows device home screens, and to utilize Microsoft's AI assistant Cortana for device-specific voice controls. Then, it released a HomeKit-compatible version of its hub. Plug it into your router, and you can let Siri take the wheel, too.
It looks like an alarm clock, but Ivee Sleek is much, much more than that. With built-in voice recognition, you can ask Ivee simple questions about the time and weather. Better yet, sync her up with compatible smart-home gadgetry like the Nest Learning Thermostat, and ask her to adjust the temperature from the comfort of your bed.
This smirking fella is Mycroft, and he wants to be your smart home's open-source brain. Not only does Mycroft offer voice control over a variety of popular smart-home gadgets, but it also claims it can stream music and video on request thanks to integrations with services like Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify, along with TV-based integrations with devices like Roku and Chromecast.
Ubi is 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.