After the CEDIA show last year, I was beyond excited about integrating the Amazon Echo into my Crestron system at home. As soon as the integration was released, I had the drivers installed and was testing everything out. My experience was only so-so: response times were slow, “sorry device not found” was fairly frequent, and having to say “Alexa tell Crestron to…” was cumbersome. I do know that Control4 users do not have to say “Alexa tell Control4,” but in Crestron-land, we aren’t that fortunate. I eventually stopped using Alexa in my home and it fell by the wayside for a time.
I was recently beta testing some things in my system and recalled the new Crestron integration with Alexa, so I decided to give it another go. This time around, I was really impressed. Now I just have to say “Alexa turn on the kitchen lights” and the kitchen lights turn on. Not only that, but they turn on right away, without the green ring spinning for several seconds before it happens. So I started the tedious process of adding more lighting loads, more scenes, and more devices into my modules. Eventually I got most of my system into the Echo—everything from lights and shades, to HVAC and AV. It is really great to be able to control my entire home with voice controls. There’s one slight drawback, though: I’ve had to train myself to start saying “Echo!” While discussing this blog with my business partner, Mark, my Echo kept responding every time I said “Alexa.” It can get annoying quickly, so I’m referring to it as ‘Echo’ as much as I can when not actually talking to the device.
All that said, I am still not quite ready to unleash this into our client base. Here’s why:
1. The improved integration is too new and we have not had time to give it a full testing of 6-12 months.
2. Accuracy is still an issue with commands failing 20-30 percent of the time.
3. Programming is tedious. EVERY SINGLE COMMAND has to be customized, taking us forever to get everything in the home working properly. And then if something is changed, like a new scene or device being added, we have to remember to make the change in the Alexa driver as well. Don’t even talk about programming in favorite TV stations or streaming stations. That would be brutal! I did a couple of each at home, but having to do it for each zone makes it a non-starter.
4. Wording is VERY specific. If you don’t say the exact phrase, the system often won’t respond properly.
5. Reliability is still an issue. I have heard several stories of the Echo losing communication with the control system (be it Control4 or Crestron) and having to jump through hoops getting everything to work again: deleting and re-adding the skill from the Alexa app; re-initializing the connection between the Echo and the control system; and general problems that can plague the integrator for days or longer trying to figure it out. Just ask our good friend John Sciacca about his experience last year with his Echo/Control4 issue.
6. There is no profit in it. While there are some products we integrate with little to no product margin (i.e. iPad control), those are highly reliable devices that work every time. The Echo is just not there yet. Considering item number 5 above, there is just too much that can go wrong and we will have to troubleshoot, causing service headaches and profit bleed.
In the pro cloumn, there are a lot of reasons the Echo is something I’ll continue to keep an eye on:
1. It is cool, and clients like cool.
2. We love it in our house and I’m sure clients will too. My son just had a birthday party, and I was testing out my integration. He and his friends loved it! Lights were going on and off throughout the house for a few hours as the kids were all screaming at the Echo to do things.
3. It is a good way to sell service contracts. It is not 100-percent reliable and clients need to be informed of that. Plus, there is almost always going to be additional programming required for it. What a great opportunity to get a reluctant client on a base service contract.
4. If we will not install it, I’m sure someone else will. At some point, voice control will come to be expected and we may just have to suck it up and deal with it.
How are all of you handling voice control integration? Are my concerns legit? Or am I being paranoid? What percent of your voice control integrations (particularly with Echo) require service calls?