by Michael Crider on
Trying to find a way to introduce someone to the internet and the digital world when it’s foreign to them (and they don’t like computers) is tough. But you can make that task easier by picking the right hardware.
Most smart home gadgets like Hue or Nest will make you use unique names within their service. However, if you want to save yourself a lot of trouble, make sure they’re unique across everything you own.
Giving every smart gadget you own a unique name might sound like an obvious tip. That still didn’t prevent me from screwing it up when I moved into a new place this month. First, I set up some Philips Hue lights. I added three in each room, naming them Living Room 1, 2, and 3, and likewise for the bedroom. Then, I went to add them to Google Home. Where, once again, I created rooms to put all these devices in. Google even helpfully auto-detected which rooms my lights should go in, based on their names.
Then, a couple days later, I set up my Nest Thermostats. I gave them unique but meaningful names in the app: Bedroom, and Living Room, to correspond to the rooms they’re in. Again, I went into the Google Home app and made sure the Nest skill was linked properly and all of the devices were in their proper room. It was an easy, breezy set up and none of the apps I used gave me any kind of error at all!
Then I started noticing problems.
First, my lights weren’t working properly. If I controlled them through the app, everything worked great. I could use Google to change the colors just fine. I was even able to turn the lights off, but only if I said, “Hey Google, set living room to 0%.” Simply saying “Turn off living room” did nothing. Google didn’t throw an error or anything. It just said “You got it!” cheerfully, while my lights stayed on. I’ve occasionally had connectivity problems with Philips Hue, so I assumed that was the case.
I also had some struggles with the Nest Thermostat. I’d already had to struggle to erase the previous owner’s learned schedule. And yet, after clearing it out and without making any changes to my thermostat, I woke up one morning to find that my air conditioning had been turned off.
You can probably guess where this is headed.
Google was interpreting “Turn off living room” to mean “Turn off the living room thermostat.” If I said “Turn off living room lights” Google suddenly understands correctly. In retrospect, it’s obvious. If all your devices are named the same, how can a smart assistant tell the difference? Sometimes Google will tell you there’s more than one device with a single name, but in this case, Google just assumed (perhaps reasonably) that “living room” and “living room lights” would be a sufficient distinction and didn’t bother clarifying.
It’s a simple mistake and easy to rectify, but when you wake up in the morning, freezing cold in a dark room, and Google can’t seem to figure out how to turn the lights on, it’s an annoying problem to troubleshoot.
My situation is just one example of how names that are too similar can cause problems when you’re using voice commands. If you’re setting up multiple smart home devices from different companies, and especially if you plan on using a voice assistant to control them, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Most of the time, smart gadgets won’t let you use names that create conflicts because they’re smart enough to detect problems. However, when you’re dealing with multiple interconnected services, the occasional mistake can slip through. It’s an easy enough problem to solve, just so long as you notice it before you wake up cold, in a dark room because a smart speaker got confused.
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