Smart Home for the rest of us – Part 4: Smart Home Apps and services

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In my previous smart home articles I looked at getting started, lighting and heating and in this post I am going to look at some apps and services you can use to add automation and intelligence to your smart home. These are the ones I use them most and hopefully will give you a taster to what is possible.

As I have been building up my smart home I come across some really handy apps that enable things like notification when the house is cold, text alerts when my home camera picks up motion and turning my Sonos on when I get home.

The apps for integration I use are IFTTT which is available for iOS and Android as well as a comprehensive web site, Stringify which is available for iOS and Android and anther app I use is Yonomi (iOS and Android). The apps work with triggers and actions so a trigger could be movement in your house detect by a camera and the action could be to turn on your Philips Hue lights.

The difference between the Stringify and IFTTT is that IFTTT is much simpler and easier to get started with than Stringify. IFTTT applets have a one trigger linked to one action where as Stringlify can have multiple triggers and actions so you can create more advanced routines. IFTTT has links to more services than Stringify so which one is best to use depends on your requirements. I use a combination of both and you can also have then work together.

IFTTT

IFTTT works by you creating applets which link together services, so before you start you link up your smart home services with IFTTT. I connected up my Philips Hue lights, D-Link plugs, Netgear security, Hive accounts along with other useful services like Twitter, Gmail and Facebook. Go to https://ifttt.com/my_services to connect up your services.

Once you have your services connected you can then create an applet which is a combination of trigger and action. An example could be to turn on a table light when a security camera motion sensor is triggered, to do this you create a new applet on IFTTT and then select your trigger (“this”) https://ifttt.com/create/if?sid=2

You search for your service which in my case is Arlo and pick a trigger which for this example is Motion detected from my kitchen camera:

Once you have created your trigger you then tell IFTTT what action you want it to take. So once again you search for your service (in my case Philips Hue)

You can then select what action you want, it could be to blink the lights or turn on a colour loop. I am going to set my lights to blink:

You can then save the applet and it will work straight away.

You can have any combination of trigger and action but the limitation is there is one trigger to one action, if you want something a little more complicated there is Stringify.

Stringify

Stringify is an iOS or Android app that you create “flows” using “things”. Things can be objects like Philips Hue lights, Amazon Alexa, RSS feeds, Gmail, Nest, Samsung Things and so on. The list of supported services is not as extensive as IFTTT but they are adding more services all the time plus you can also trigger IFTTT from Stringify.

Once you have connected your things you when create a flow. I created a more advanced version of my IFTTT motion trigger using Stringify. This one uses motion detected via the Arlo camera to trigger an alert on my phone but with the addition of a time of day clause. So if motion is detected on my Arlo camera and its after midnight (but before 6am) I get a notification on phone and it turns on the Philips Hue lights. Five minutes later it switches off the lights.

As you can see from the screen shot the flow works by having a combination of the motion alert and the date & time restriction, and then there are two sections triggered by the action. The Hue light turns on and then there is a timer which waits for five minutes and then turns the lights back off. Also at the same time

I also have another flow that via an Amazon Alexa command arms my Arlo security system and then sends me a notification to show its been activated. I say “Alexa ask Stringify to arm security” and it turns on my camera system. So you can have any Alexa command run any flow, so you could use Alexa to email you what the traffic looks like going to work or use Alexa to turn off your heating, turn off your lights and arm your security.

Stringify is great for having multiple actions as well as If, this and that type flows. The app is free and available on iOS and Android.

Yonomi

Another app that is very handy is Yonomi for iOS and Android, this is another app for creating flows and the main reason I use is to control Sonos. Sonos currently doesn’t work with Amazon Alexa but Yonomi supports some basic controls of Sonos and works Alexa so you can use the app to create some basic voice commands for Sonos.

Yonomi works by creating routines that have a When (such as an Alexa trigger), Action (such as play Sonos) and “but only if” conditions. An action would be to set the Sonos volume at 50%, turn on your lights and then resume Sonos playback.

As with the other services you first link the services you want to control (like Philips Hue) and some devices like Sonos it detected then via a network scan. You can then create a routine selecting the triggers and actions you require. The integration with Sonos is limited to playing a favourite, playing a sound effect, play, pause, next, previous, set the volume, mute or unmute your device. The other thing to note is that the routines that work with Sonos require you being on the same network as your Sonos as it is using UPnP under the covers. If you are only planning to control your routine via Alexa you don’t need a trigger in Yonomi.

Once you have created a routine you ask Amazon Alexa to detect new devices in the Smart Home section of the app, it will see the routines as switchable devices so if you create a Yonomi routine called “Sonos” that triggers your Sonos to play music you can trigger it by saying “Alexa, turn on Sonos”. While it’s not as good as being able to ask Alexa to play a song or playlist on your Sonos it is the best that can be done until Sonos add full Alexa integration to their devices.

These are my three favourite services, here are some others I like to use:

hueDynamic – Window 10 PC & Mobile

hueDynamic for Windows 10

hueDynamic is a great app for controlling Hue lights from Windows 10. You can set static colour ambiences and colours, you can also control experiences which are animated colour changing setups like flickering fireplace or gently changing moods. It can even use the PC camera and pick out the dominant colours and set Hue to match it, so you could have it looking at your TV and it would great a matching ambient colour on your Hue devices.

Conclusion

Other apps I use are Home Remote for Windows 10 and Android which can control Sonos, DLNA devices, Honeywell, Nest, Philips Hue, Wemo and more. HueManic for Android is another one I use which has a great party lights mode.

With these combinations of apps and services you can add smart functionality to your home and extend the features of the services you have setup. If you have any recommendation of apps I should take a look at please let me know.

About the author Ian Dixon:
Ian Dixon is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), founder of TheDigitalLifestyle.com tech site and producer of the weekly The Digital Lifestyle Show podcast. Ian has been writing and talking about Windows for over 10 years and has over 20 years in IT as an IT Manager. Ian has thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook and over 4 million views on his YouTube channel.
  • Darrell Em

    Hi Ian, thanks for the great review of hueDynamic 🙂

    • No problem, it is a great app!

    • no problem. Are you the developer? If so it would be great to get you onto our podcast.

      • Darrell Em

        Yup, its a spare time (read as ALL my spare time) project. The creators update has introduced some camera bugs so I’m just working around those at the moment. I’ll certainly check the podcast out!

        • Have a listen and if you want to come onto the show to talk about your app let me know.

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