Security

CES 2017: Voice Control for the Smart Home, and a Thread/Weave IoT Surprise? - UPDATE

Although they don’t have booths on the show floor, Google (Assistant), Amazon (Alexa) and Apple (Siri) will dominate IoT voice control at CES 2017. Plus: Thread and Weave home automation in the Google Home hub?

CES 2017: Voice Control for the Smart Home, and a Thread/Weave IoT Surprise? - UPDATE
What can we expect from the Big 3 in voice control at CES? Amazon and Google will be off the show floor and Apple will be a no-show, but Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant will be in full force with smart home partners. By the way ... looks like the Google Home IoT hub will incorporate Nest Weave, the home-automation protocol that Nest layers on top of Thread for local connectivity and control.

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UPDATE: We might have been very wrong on Thread/Weave in Google Home. See correction below.

This year’s CES 2016 was the break-out show for voice control in the smart home. Amazon wasn’t officially represented but the Echo was everywhere with integration partners that could, for example, ask Alexa to “Tell Vivint I’m going to bed.” Hardly elegant.

Only lights and smart plugs had “native” Alexa integration way back then -- 11 months ago – so you could command Alexa directly to “Set thermostat to 72” or “Dim the kitchen lights.” Then came thermostats, ceiling fans (thanks Big Ass Fans) and door locks with their rightful Skills, followed in September 2016 by special Amazon treatment for home-automation partners like Control4 and Crestron.

Finally, at CES 2017 we can expect to see native Alexa Skills for multiroom audio, surveillance cameras and other categories.

Note: Companies on the CES exhibitor list are bolded in this piece; non-bolded companies might be part of some pavilion or group, but aren't "official" CES partners in the show.

Alexa Voice Services at CES

But it gets even better. CES 2017 will be the one remembered for truly native voice integration, thanks to Alexa Voice Services (AVS), which enables voice control through a connected device’s own mics, no Echo hub required.

Exhibitors including Nucleus (video intercoms), Invoxia (Triby portable speaker) and Pebble (Core watch) will showcase AVS-enabled products. So too will Ford Motor Co., which might just be the thing that finally bridges the car and the smart home, given that you can use Alexa voice commands in one location to initiate events at the other.

At CES 2017, Invoxia will showcase the Triby messaging system with Alexa Voice Services (AVS) built in -- not Echo hub required.

Heck, even LG is incorporating Alexa into its SmartThinQ speaker and home automation hub – a product that aspired to be an Echo-buster when it debuted at CES 2016.

Alas, it appears we won’t see Alexa voice services embedded in Sonos speakers anytime soon, even though the prospect had been discussed in the past. The company told VentureBeat recently that the mics in its PLAY:5 speakers would not be used for voice control. (You saw that right -- no official Sonos presence at CES 2017.)

Amazon itself is expected to release an Alexa hub with a 7-inch touchscreen in 2017.

Don’t expect to see Amazon the company, however, unless you have an appointment. “Amazon Alexa” is on the CES exhibitor list, but no booth is given, so you won’t be able to just stroll by and chat with Alexans as you could at CEDIA 2016 in September.

Google Assistant, Google Home, Google World Domination

Likewise for Google, which is listed as a CES exhibitor, but doesn’t have a public booth at the show. Even so, we’re sure to see the Google Assistant voice engine demo’d all over the place by implementers.

Google Assistant, an improved version of the existing Google Now voice engine, came in with a bang just a few months ago. The technology is embedded in the Made by Google portfolio of products including the Pixel phone, OnHub router and Google Home, the company’s answer to Amazon Echo.


Free Webinar Tuesday, 12/6: CES Preview of Audio, Video and Smart Home Trends


Out of the box, Google Home (with Google Assistant) offers “Direct Actions” for home-automation devices including Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Lifx smart bulbs and Philips Hue. This month the company is releasing an SDK for the voice service for broader implementation.

In any case, Google Assistant has a much richer “native” IFTTT integration engine than Alexa, so we’re already seeing plenty of development for products like Logitech/Harmony (“OK, Google, turn on the TV”), Rachio (“Turn on the sprinklers”), Belkin WeMo (“Turn on the air purifier”), and even Control4 whole-home automation.

Because of the ubiquity of Google’s Android OS and the richness of Google’s IoT ecosystem – search engine, maps, phone, Allo instant-messaging, Nest smart-home devices, Chromecast and the Cast audio-streaming service (now just part of Google Home), Google Wifi wireless mesh networking system, IFTTT-compatible OnHub router … yada yada yada … yeah, Google Assistant is going to be a pretty big deal in the smart home.

Google Home, Thread and Weave

Here’s an interesting little nugget: Google’s OnHub router has an 802.15.4 chip inside to run Thread, the Nest-inspired IPv6 connectivity protocol that is slowly gaining traction among product developers.

In its online promotion for OnHub, Google says the product is primed for Weave, Nest’s application-level protocol found in all if its own smart devices -- cameras, smoke detector and thermostat.

NEXT-GEN CAPABLE

OnHub can support the next generation of smart devices, thanks to built-in smart-home tech like Bluetooth Smart Ready, 802.15.4, and Weave.

We have learned as well that Google Home has the same or similar chipset for Thread. (I know, it gets confusing -- OnHub and Home; they have very similar personalities.) We might expect, therefore, that Google Home is also poised to be as a Thread/Weave home automation gateway.

CORRECTION: While we were told (not by Nest, Google or Thread) that Google planned to support Thread in the future -- a Google Home teardown on iFixIt does not mention an 802.15.4 radio onboard. We should mention also that the Thread/Weave service has never been activated on OnHub, a product that is widely expected to be killed in any case. Nest spokesperson Ivy Choi tells CE Pro, "Google Home currently does not use 802.15.4. That said, both Thread and Weave are critical, core technologies for the home and Google and Nest products will leverage these technologies where it makes sense."

Weave-enabled products are able to communicate locally and fastly with all Nest and other Weave devices – no home network required – just like Z-Wave, ZigBee and (some day) OCF.

While Nest is trying to get third-party developers to adopt Weave, there has only been one taker so far: Yale, with its Linus door lock.

Big Ass Fans was expected to adopt it for Haiku smart fans with SenseME technology, but hasn’t done so yet. Legrand had said last year that it would use Weave for its new Thread-enabled ELIoT smart-home platform, but the company instead went with Samsung’s Artik platform (aligned with the Open Connectivity Forum, or OCF).

Read: Nest Exposes ‘Weave’ Home Automation Protocol, Opens Camera API, Plans World Domination

Siri and Apple Home

Apple is even a bigger no-show than Google and Amazon at CES, not even meriting a mention in the CES exhibitor list. Still, Siri-enabled smart-home devices should be everywhere now that Apple has officially released iOS 10 and the Apple Home app for HomeKit-compatible devices.

Even before that release, dozens of HomeKit devices had hit the market over the past couple of years, just primed for voice control of a whole ecosystem of Apple-friendly products -- gosh, like Philips HueLutron Caseta, iHome/SDI plugs and 5-in-1 SmartMonitorAugust Home smart locks, Hunter Fan SimpleConnect ceiling fans, Schlage door locks, iDevices thermostats and sockets and so much more. DigitalTrends has a nice roundup, but I think we can safely assume that most respectable smart-home brands will have HomeKit-compatible stuff at some point.

For all the compatible products, though, Apple has one big disadvantage when it comes to voice control for the home: no real hands-free options.

Here's the deal:

The latest Apple TV serves up great entertainment services via voice, but you have to press-and-hold a button on the remote to speak to it. Alternatively, you can make voice commands via the dedicated Apple TV remote app for iOS. Here again, you have to press and hold the virtual mic button on your iPhone or iPad ... from within the app.

Sorry, but Echo and Google Home have conditioned us to simply speak into the ether: "Alexa, turn the TV to CNN" (Logitech Harmony does a nice job of this). Who wants to scrounge around for a TV remote or mobile device to issue a voice command?

Smart-home commands, i.e., not Apple TV commands, are quite different. Theoretically, you could set your iPhone to awake upon your "Hey, Siri" command, even from a locked screen. You can then issue smart-home commands by voice, without opening an app or pressing buttons.

Of course, your iOS device must be nearby to hear you. There appears to be no real far-field communications option for Siri.

Confused? I certainly am, not being an owner of any IoS device ever. I believe the bottom line is: No handsfree for Apple TV voice control; klunky handsfree for Apple Home commands. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

In any case, Siri for the smart home will be big at CES 2017 and big in general. Bigger still after the show, when Apple may very well launch its own Echo-buster, this one with a camera and facial recognition.

Many thanks to the CE Pro community who helped this Android girl -- or tried to, anyway -- understand Siri, iOS and Apple TV. Any errors here are totally my own.


Free Webinar Tuesday, 12/6: CES Preview of Audio, Video and Smart Home Trends




  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

Follow Julie on social media:
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Comments

Posted by BenHobbs on January 8, 2017

Alexa seems to be gaining momentum, which is fine I like it and use it myself.  The quicker one leader can be accepted as almost a standard the more technology companies can concentrate on new products delivering output rather than worrying about spending a load of time making sure their product can talk to a myriad of different systems.

Posted by antoniohardeman on January 5, 2017

@Joshuaad I have push back on your Apple providing the best security for Homekit.  I read a lot of home automation forums and listen to podcasts and read other sites.  The fact that Apple allows developers of HomeKit products to enable Siri to unlock a door lock or open a garage door control shows me how little regard they have for the security of devices that allow entry into a home.  I don’t care if the user can enable TouchID or a pin code to for such purposes.  We know that some users will not enable TouchID or a pin code.  That’s irresponsible on Apple’s part. 

Siri is slightly ok for voice control of home control products, but you don’t get the flexibility that have multiple Echos or Google Homes provide.  A homeowner can place a Echo or Home in each room and it’s platform agnostic.  If everyone in a household has an Iphone, Siri is just ok for voice control of the home and in that case voice control of HomeKit products should work just fine.  But if you have a HomeKit system and some of the family members hav Android devices, the Android person is out of luck in his/her corner of the house; same thing if you have guest that come over for the holidays or for a weekend stay.  When I had guests this over Thanksgiving and early December, they all were able to use the Echos around the home to make adjustments to the home control devices instead of asking for my Iphone 6.  Hopefully in the future we’ll see Apple develop Siri powered speakers that one could locate around a home.  I think that we’ll see it at some point.

Apple will play a role in the home automation world and I like that Homekit is opening home control up to the people who would have rejected it a year or two ago.  It makes things better for those that believe in home automation; just as Amazon Echo has opened up home control to those who may not have considered it.  The more competition the better.  However, until Apple requires that all HomeKit products ONLY work through the Apple Home app instead of/in addition to apps that the manufacturers of HomeKit products create, it’ll continue to be a disjointed home control experience.  Users opening multiple apps to multiple control products throughout the home isn’t elegant; and Apple is supposed to be about elegance.

Posted by Joshuaad on January 4, 2017

@John Nemesh. Well, we know how you feel about Apple and their way of doing business. Its too early in the game to call any failures in this market. The iPhone, iPad, Apple stores, App stores, and now the Apple Watch, etc. were all called “bound to fail” or even failures outright. We know better now, right? Nobody has a huge leg up in truth. We’ll have to see what products come out from each and everyone. It’s going to be a fierce competitive war between the usual suspects. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. The Apple ecosystem is strong and healthy. It will be a lot easier to ditch an Echo Dot or Google Home than it is to ditch an iPhone, iPad and Macbook/iMac. It’s anybody’s game right now, but truthfully, in my opinion, of course, Apple really needs to screw up not to come out on top. Only time will tell. And it probably won’t take too long (2017-2018) for the dust to clear. Either way, competition is good for the consumer. May the best product win. And as far as Apple’s requirements to be HomeKit certified, it’s my understanding that it is meant to provide the greatest security possible. Privacy and safety matters a great deal to many people. Still, there’s no point in debating this as we will see how things evolve first hand. Once Apple rolls out their ‘Echo’ counterpart, and based on how it translates into revenue and profit, we’ll have a better picture of how things will shape up in this arena.

Posted by John Nemesh on January 4, 2017

@Joshuaad While I am sure that “any device can be HomeKit Certified”, the REALITY is that the manufacturers, to a large extent, are NOT going to be jumping through any of Apple’s hoops!  If Apple wants to get into home automation, they need to realize that THEY are not going to be the “King of the Castle”...and I doubt very seriously that Apple’s hubris would allow that.  The game will be won by companies that interface with EXISTING technology, not by someone demanding that the manufacturers make hardware to THEIR standards!  This is why Alexa has such a huge leg up right now…sure some products have “native” support for Alexa…but you also have “bridge” products, like the aforementioned Logitech Harmony, that will allow Alexa to control other products via IR or RS-232 using EXISTING protocols!  Apple failed before they even launched with their high handed requirements for the manufacturers.

Posted by Joshuaad on December 30, 2016

HomeKit is the umbrella that encompasses smart home systems in Apple’s iOS. It’s not a restriction any more than any other software environment is a restriction. To be HomeKit certified is, as I understand it, fairly stringent- mainly for security reasons. Maybe that’s why HomeKit devices are slow trickling in. Any device can become HomeKit certified. My guess is most category leader smart home devices will want to be since iOS/iPhones usually indicate a higher level of affluence and their target market… Again, this is just the beginning. Still more an experiment than a “i must have it” product yet. We won’t have to wait long to see what’s next, I don’t think.

Posted by antoniohardeman on December 30, 2016

Joshuaad,

“Hey Siri” is getting mixed reviews when it comes to controlling Homekit devices by voice.  Amazon Echo and Google Home deliver a far better voice control experience and in the case of Echo it works with a wide range of home control devices and systems.  Also, even if Apple delivers a category leader it’d still likely be restricted to Homekit.  And in that since I don’t see how it could a category leader when it doesn’t cover the home control category in a complete way.  That may change in the future but Apple has shown that it prefers to limit it’s innovation strictly to the Apple environment.

Posted by Joshuaad on December 30, 2016

Also, though it is not the same (as good) as the Echo far field mics, there is a hand-free home kit option with Apple using a “hey Siri” enabled iPhone/iPad. That’s just a stop gap for sure.

Posted by Joshuaad on December 30, 2016

Voice control is at its early beginning. Privacy issues are key here. Expect Apple to offer a category leader when they’re ready. Hopefully soon. Home Automation is being disrupted big time.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on December 5, 2016

If you’re going to wake up to Billy Joel, it needs to be “Uptown Girl”

Posted by TheDarkKnight on December 5, 2016

If you’re going to wake up to Billy Joel, it needs to be “Uptown Girl”

Posted by Joshuaad on December 30, 2016

Voice control is at its early beginning. Privacy issues are key here. Expect Apple to offer a category leader when they’re ready. Hopefully soon. Home Automation is being disrupted big time.

Posted by Joshuaad on December 30, 2016

Also, though it is not the same (as good) as the Echo far field mics, there is a hand-free home kit option with Apple using a “hey Siri” enabled iPhone/iPad. That’s just a stop gap for sure.

Posted by antoniohardeman on December 30, 2016

Joshuaad,

“Hey Siri” is getting mixed reviews when it comes to controlling Homekit devices by voice.  Amazon Echo and Google Home deliver a far better voice control experience and in the case of Echo it works with a wide range of home control devices and systems.  Also, even if Apple delivers a category leader it’d still likely be restricted to Homekit.  And in that since I don’t see how it could a category leader when it doesn’t cover the home control category in a complete way.  That may change in the future but Apple has shown that it prefers to limit it’s innovation strictly to the Apple environment.

Posted by Joshuaad on December 30, 2016

HomeKit is the umbrella that encompasses smart home systems in Apple’s iOS. It’s not a restriction any more than any other software environment is a restriction. To be HomeKit certified is, as I understand it, fairly stringent- mainly for security reasons. Maybe that’s why HomeKit devices are slow trickling in. Any device can become HomeKit certified. My guess is most category leader smart home devices will want to be since iOS/iPhones usually indicate a higher level of affluence and their target market… Again, this is just the beginning. Still more an experiment than a “i must have it” product yet. We won’t have to wait long to see what’s next, I don’t think.

Posted by John Nemesh on January 4, 2017

@Joshuaad While I am sure that “any device can be HomeKit Certified”, the REALITY is that the manufacturers, to a large extent, are NOT going to be jumping through any of Apple’s hoops!  If Apple wants to get into home automation, they need to realize that THEY are not going to be the “King of the Castle”...and I doubt very seriously that Apple’s hubris would allow that.  The game will be won by companies that interface with EXISTING technology, not by someone demanding that the manufacturers make hardware to THEIR standards!  This is why Alexa has such a huge leg up right now…sure some products have “native” support for Alexa…but you also have “bridge” products, like the aforementioned Logitech Harmony, that will allow Alexa to control other products via IR or RS-232 using EXISTING protocols!  Apple failed before they even launched with their high handed requirements for the manufacturers.

Posted by Joshuaad on January 4, 2017

@John Nemesh. Well, we know how you feel about Apple and their way of doing business. Its too early in the game to call any failures in this market. The iPhone, iPad, Apple stores, App stores, and now the Apple Watch, etc. were all called “bound to fail” or even failures outright. We know better now, right? Nobody has a huge leg up in truth. We’ll have to see what products come out from each and everyone. It’s going to be a fierce competitive war between the usual suspects. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. The Apple ecosystem is strong and healthy. It will be a lot easier to ditch an Echo Dot or Google Home than it is to ditch an iPhone, iPad and Macbook/iMac. It’s anybody’s game right now, but truthfully, in my opinion, of course, Apple really needs to screw up not to come out on top. Only time will tell. And it probably won’t take too long (2017-2018) for the dust to clear. Either way, competition is good for the consumer. May the best product win. And as far as Apple’s requirements to be HomeKit certified, it’s my understanding that it is meant to provide the greatest security possible. Privacy and safety matters a great deal to many people. Still, there’s no point in debating this as we will see how things evolve first hand. Once Apple rolls out their ‘Echo’ counterpart, and based on how it translates into revenue and profit, we’ll have a better picture of how things will shape up in this arena.

Posted by antoniohardeman on January 5, 2017

@Joshuaad I have push back on your Apple providing the best security for Homekit.  I read a lot of home automation forums and listen to podcasts and read other sites.  The fact that Apple allows developers of HomeKit products to enable Siri to unlock a door lock or open a garage door control shows me how little regard they have for the security of devices that allow entry into a home.  I don’t care if the user can enable TouchID or a pin code to for such purposes.  We know that some users will not enable TouchID or a pin code.  That’s irresponsible on Apple’s part. 

Siri is slightly ok for voice control of home control products, but you don’t get the flexibility that have multiple Echos or Google Homes provide.  A homeowner can place a Echo or Home in each room and it’s platform agnostic.  If everyone in a household has an Iphone, Siri is just ok for voice control of the home and in that case voice control of HomeKit products should work just fine.  But if you have a HomeKit system and some of the family members hav Android devices, the Android person is out of luck in his/her corner of the house; same thing if you have guest that come over for the holidays or for a weekend stay.  When I had guests this over Thanksgiving and early December, they all were able to use the Echos around the home to make adjustments to the home control devices instead of asking for my Iphone 6.  Hopefully in the future we’ll see Apple develop Siri powered speakers that one could locate around a home.  I think that we’ll see it at some point.

Apple will play a role in the home automation world and I like that Homekit is opening home control up to the people who would have rejected it a year or two ago.  It makes things better for those that believe in home automation; just as Amazon Echo has opened up home control to those who may not have considered it.  The more competition the better.  However, until Apple requires that all HomeKit products ONLY work through the Apple Home app instead of/in addition to apps that the manufacturers of HomeKit products create, it’ll continue to be a disjointed home control experience.  Users opening multiple apps to multiple control products throughout the home isn’t elegant; and Apple is supposed to be about elegance.

Posted by BenHobbs on January 8, 2017

Alexa seems to be gaining momentum, which is fine I like it and use it myself.  The quicker one leader can be accepted as almost a standard the more technology companies can concentrate on new products delivering output rather than worrying about spending a load of time making sure their product can talk to a myriad of different systems.