Problems with digital home assistants

For the last several months, I have been testing both Siri and the Google Assistant as voice controllers for my home automation products.  While neither product is really very good at this point in time, I have less overall problems with Siri than I do with the Google Assistant.  In this post I will outline the biggest issue I have with each device.

First, I should say that these products both have potential, both are obviously functioning as public beta tests.  They both do sort of work when initially setup, but it is the bugs I have noticed over my time using these apps that has caused me to return to using the native non-voice controlled apps for home automation.

The main items in my house that I want to control with voice are my Hue lights and my Nest thermostats.  I also have other “smart” devices like my Nest Smoke Detectors and Ring Doorbell, but I do not really have a use case for these to function with voice commands.

On Siri the initial setup was pretty easy for the Hue bulbs.  I opened the Home app and added my Hue Hub.  Home found the lights and attempted to sync the info on the hub to my iPad. The system responded well to my commands — “Siri – change the Kitchen lights to Blue” was followed by a silly “Your wish is my command” and the lights became blue.  I had some fun with this with my 3 year old son.

The initial setup with Google Assistant also went pretty well.  I used the Assistant to connect to my Hue Hub as well as to add my Nest Thermostats.  I then had to create rooms that the Assistant was aware of.  These rooms are different from those created in the Hue Hub and can be a source of confusion and frustration, but they did work.  I setup my Kitchen room to contain my main room Nest and the lights in the Kitchen.  “Ok Google — Change the temperature in the Kitchen to 70 degrees” was followed perfectly, with the Nest showing the change on the thermostats LCD.  “Ok Google — Change the Kitchen lights to Blue” also worked as expected.  My son also  had fun with this.

I turned the lights off for the next few nights using voice commands and was impressed.  All was well. I woke up the next day and told Siri to turn on All the lights.  Siri did not respond.  Siri sat there on my iPad Pro for literately a minute before she timed out. I tried again, and Siri did turn on the lights.  Over the next couple of weeks, I have noticed Siri does this a lot.  I am not a seasoned IOS user, as I prefer to use Android, but this behavior seems common when searching on the internet.  Using Siri from the lock screen seems to time out often, but when the iPad is unlocked, Siri does seem to control my lights pretty well.

I have also noticed that sometimes Siri can not find some of my lights, but switching off and on the main switch to them seems to fix this.  The lights do work in the Hue App without doing this. Siri also does not work at all with 3rd party, non Hue bulbs.  I have a couple of outdoor GE made smart flood lights.  These lights work perfectly in the Hue App and can be automated with the built in software.  I am curious why Apple can not get these working with Siri at this point, as they do also work with the Google Assistant when it does work.

That brings up my big gripe here.  The software hub that the assistant works through to communicate with the Hue Hub is very buggy.  Almost every day it tells me that my lights are missing, disconnected or can not be communicated with.  While Siri also has some issues, flipping the switch seems to fix it most of the time.  There is no way to get the Google Assistant to notice that you have done this.  It is very annoying.  Eventually, the Google Assistant does notice that the lights are “available” again, but there is no way for the user to tell the system manually they have intervened.  The Nest thermostats have no such issues, so I do not know who to blame here.  All I can report is that the Hue App does work all the time, regardless of what Siri or Assistant tell me.

The losing of the connectivity on a regular basis between the voice assistants and the Hue Hub has really made me revert to controlling it the more traditional way of just using the app on my phones or tablet.  It is unfortunate, I did see the potential there.  Maybe I will try an Echo.


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