Smart Homes for Smart People

With everything being smart these days, why should homes be left behind? A good place to start with home automation is most certainly with lights. We all have a need for lights and they are usually all over the house. Now if we can start controlling them with our phones or voices or even with gestures and apps then wouldn’t that be smart?

Philips recently introduced the Hue starter kit to the Indian market. I took the kit for a quick test flight. The kit consists of two white ambience bulbs, a bridge and a remote control switch. Setting this up was fairly easy. The box contained a quick start guide which mentions how to connect the bridge to your network and provided the QR code for the app that could be downloaded either via the Play Store or the App Store. Really, that was all that was needed. The app takes you to the MeetHue website and you can create your account there and link your Bridge. Once that is done, it is ready for use.

The bulbs provided are the Hue White Ambience E27 type, popularly known as “मोटी चूड़ी” rather than the more commonly used B22 bulb types aka “pin” type. Since I actually have several lights with E27 sockets, no adapters were needed and in minutes I was ready to go.

If you thought Fifty Shades of Grey was bad enough, then here comes the super surprise. The Hue White Ambience lights are capable of 50,000 shades of white or different temperatures.  These range from warm to cool and everything in-between.

 

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Alexa Controlling Hue

 

Open up the app, tap on the light and it turns ON! You can now setup lights in different rooms and start controlling them from the app. Isn’t that smart!

Next up, a quick look at the app shows you a very interesting option for location-based awareness. If you allow the Hue app to have access to your location data, it does two smart things, a) it figures out when you are home and b) it figures out the sunrise and sunset times for your area. Based on this, you never have to walk into a dark room again, nor fumble to pull out your phone to use the app. The lights just come on as you walk in thirty minutes after sunset or whatever it is you decided. That’s pretty smart!

With voice assistants being omnipresent, the next thing I am sure you would like to try is to have a conversation with your lights. I tested this with an Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant and it worked out-of-the-box. Setup was quite simple, each assistant only required me to link with the Hue account and it was ready for use. So, “Alexa turn on the bedroom light” worked perfectly. As did “Siri, turn the brightness down in the Den”. Getting the shades of white was not that easy, though warm and cool worked perfectly.

The final smarts now come from using a variety of different apps. The Hue app features many of them. With coloured lights, you can convert your lights to strobes in time with the music or if you just want to set up more complex routines, use an app like Yonomi. The possibilities are endless.

The one downside of these smart lights is the price. The Philips starter kit is ₹12,000/- a bit steep to get started. The bridge can support up to 50 lights so if you do put your money down, you can get started. Compare this with Amazon’s deal on the Echo Plus. For ₹15,000/- you get an Echo Plus with a built-in smart hub and a free Philips Hue smart bulb.

Pros: Easy to setup, easy to use. Endless possibilities.
Cons: Steep price for a starter kit and individual bulbs.

WhatsApp on iPad

While we all love our instant messengers, WhatsApp seems to be the current favourite in India. A good testimony to that is the billions of messages sent on New Year’s causing a major meltdown of the servers.

On the phone, it is a great app, but every now and then one feels the need for a larger screen. WhatsApp is clearly aware of that and has created a version for most web browsers and even desktop editions for Mac and Windows.

This, however, leaves out the folks with iPads. I’m not sure if this is an Apple thing or a WhatsApp thing, but it sure would be nice to get a working WhatsApp on the iPad.

In the meantime, here’s a simple hack. It requires you to have a phone with WhatsApp running on it and it makes use of the phone just like the web version does. The problem is when you open web.whatsapp.com on the iPad it just takes you to their main site.img_0229

The trick around this is to get the iPad to show you the “desktop” site instead of the mobile/iPad site. From the menu on the top right, select “Request Desktop Site”.

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You should now get the familiar screen with the QR code to be scanned by the phone.

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The rest of the process is pretty much the same as you would use for a desktop browser. Use the app on the phone to scan the QR code and you should be all set.

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Enjoy the goodness of a large screen, till Apple or WhatsApp or both release an app for the iPad. In the meantime, don’t blame me for wasting more time on it.

Update: One of the reasons I wrote this post was the impending launch of WhatsApp for Business. I assumed that with India and Brazil both being big consumers of WhatsApp, they would actually launch the product in these markets first. Well, they did launch, but not yet in India. Hoping it happens soon.

Cheers…Kishore

A Leak Year

Barely a week into the year and we are already seeing major security issues cropping up. While 2018 is not a leap year, my gut says it will be another leak year.

The year started with a bang. Spectre and Meltdown came into our lives affecting computers, mobiles and even the cloud. These are complex vulnerabilities, and enough and more has been written about them. One thing is clear though, the time has come to reboot chip design with security in mind. In the meantime, manufacturers are scrambling to patch the vulnerabilities and the rest of us are celebrating them. Love the two logos created by Natascha Eibl for these. Welcome to #chipmageddon

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Next up we have Aadhaar. Has it leaked or not? Saying there is a breach could now have the cops after you, but a lot of people are losing faith rapidly. Wonder what the next steps would be, scrap it and start over, or keep linking with every aspect of our lives! IMHO, it is time for an Aadhaar 2.0.

It is a grim start, let’s hope it gets better. If it doesn’t don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Cheers…Kishore