Online retailer Amazon (AMZN) is embracing its inner tech geek with the introduction of two new technology products, hoping to further capitalize on its surprisingly popular home-based voice-controlled Echo product that has been dubbed, Alexa.
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We’re in the midst of building a house and now that the beams are all nailed and the windows mounted, we’ve come to the point of having to make the million decisions that come with building your own home. Some of those choices revolve around putting in automated systems.

This is the right time to think about it. Now is the time when the heating system will be going in and also the thermostats — we’re going with Nests because they are the most advanced, user-friendly and can easily handle a six-zone system.

The electricians are arriving Monday and they want to know what switches we’re going to use. That suddenly raises the main issue about choosing a home automation system and it’s a hard issue.

If we continue on the track that we started out on, we’ll probably be using Belkin WeMo switches and other devices, all controlled by our cell phones and by voice using Amazon’s Alexa.

Or, should we use this opportunity to go with Apple’s HomeKit and use Siri for voice control? HomeKit has been late to the party of home automation but they have very impressive specifications.

Jefferson Graham visits a working smart home in Redondo Beach, where an app turns on the lights, opens the garage door, starts the morning coffee and more. Video by Sean Fujiwara.

Standards

Picking the right standard when choosing a home automation approach means that we will be assured a variety of functions will continue to be available and that future innovations will integrate right in later. If we pick the wrong standard, in a couple of years, we’ll be the only ones around using those kinds of devices and we may have to switch everything out, or operate without new innovations or technical support. I like to think that we won’t have to buy all this stuff twice. It’s infinitely preferable to spend the next 10 years not having to worry about one manufacturer going broke and leaving us in the lurch. It’s happened before, there are a lot of brave and hardy X-10 adopters out there who have felt the burn. Competition is the way we pick standards, which I sometimes think is very unfortunate. After all, competition is much more efficient at producing losers than winners.

HomeKit

Because HomeKit is relatively new, there are not a lot of devices that support the available standards. There are controllable plugs and lights, a smattering of appliances and some other odds and ends, plus more to come, no doubt. HomeKit is important because Apple is behind it and they have the muscle to drive the standard. The HomeKit standard is very robust, including features like “End to End” encryption which means a more secure home automation environment. That kind of protection will stop space pirates or the kid next door from turning your house into his own personal light show. The gravity of the situation grows when we consider that locks can now be remotely controlled and even recognize who wants to get in.

Belkin’s WeMo

WeMo has been around for a while, although it’s not anywhere near “venerable” but Belkin’s been through some challenges and come out very well. Security on the WeMo systems has had some flaws in the past and once they were pointed out by security researchers, Belkin was quick to fix them. This kind of real-life experience speaks very well for Belkin’s commitment to the WeMo standard. WeMo products are more numerous and common than HomeKit’s right now and user experiences are mostly good to great. They are successful enough to have earned integration with Amazon’s Alexa which gives the WeMo standard an excellent voice interface. It’s all very nice to whip out your cellphone and shut off the lights but it’s even nicer to just be able to say “Alexa, turn out the lights.”

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Maybe no choice is the right choice

Recent news brought a huge sigh of relief to us and others. As a huge stroke of luck, Belkin announced that they plan to integrate with HomeKit in the future. However, HomeKit requires a particular kind of security chip and Belkin has said that adding that chip’s functionality would strand most of their current user base with “the Old Product,” something they are unwilling to do. For me, that is music to my ears and speaks to their commitment. They are still committed to blending with HomeKit standard products though, and are busy finding other ways to meet the needs necessary.

Bottom line

After trying out new home automation products for over a year, our choice turned out to be pretty easy. We’ll go with WeMo and hope for integration down the road. It’s been our excellent experience with the WeMo products and the addition of Alexa that really got us here. It’s also nice that our Nest thermostat recently became accessible through Alexa, so all it takes is a couple of words to turn up or down the heat. We see that as another big success for the WeMo line and we look forward to even more.

Tell us your favorite tech accessory. Email eabreu@gannettnj.com.

Prentiss Gray’s weekly column provides tips and advice on how to make your life better in Morris County. Read “DomestiTech” every Thursday in The Good Life.