Home automation has been a fascination of mine ever since I saw Beyond 2000 back when I was kid. Opening doors with a chip in your hand! Turning off lights from a mobile phone! It was just so futuristic and now, we can do all that futuristic stuff. But it’s generally kludgey and lame. When Belkin announced the WeMo it looked like this home automation stuff might not suck and be relatively affordable, so when they asked me to review it, I was super interested.
The easiest way to describe the WeMo is a power switch that you can turn on or off with your phone. Got a lamp plugged in to that switch? Use your phone to turn it off or on. WeMo can do much more than that, but that’s the basic premise – switch goes on, switch goes off, via the Internets. There’s also a WeMo motion sensor, which works in conjunction with the switch to control appliances, or solo to do funny things on the Internet.
Belkin gave me the Switch+Motion pack, which is $119, but you can buy the switch on its own for $59. Can’t buy the motion sensor on its own though. There’s a baby monitor too (which is basically a microphone – so you can use it for other stuff that requires sound, not just babies!). Comes in a box. With packaging. And a manual written on the box.
The motion sensor glows a nice blue when it detects motion and the switch device has a physical switch on it too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Belkin typically make decent quality stuff and this is no exception. It would be nice if the entire units were smaller (look at it on my powerboard – the socket next to it is gone) though.
Set up is easy, but if you’re patient. Plug the switch in to a power socket and wait a few minutes, then go to your iPhone, download the WeMo app from the App Store. Connect to the new wi-fi network the WeMo switch has made and open the WeMo app. The app will detect the switch and you can give it a name, even take a photo of it (handy if you have multiple WeMo things) and then give it your wi-fi password, so the WeMo can get on to the Internet.
Once its set up, you can turn the switch on or off just by tapping the icon on your phone. It works remotely too, with no configuration. As far as I understand, all info is passed through Belkin’s WeMo servers, rather than from your phone to the device directly. Hence, no need to crack a hole in your firewall to get it to talk to the outside world. You can disable remote access too, if you like.
What’s a bit concerning is the ability for anyone with access to your wi-fi network and the WeMo app, to control the WeMo devices. I loaded up the WeMo app on my iPod touch and it just worked, with no config or authentication. This is great, as I hate logging in, etc. but it would be nice if an “admin” user could allow other devices to control the WeMo (e.g: when a new iPhone tries to connect to your WeMo, a push notifcation appears on a device that is used most of the time to control WeMo and you can either say yes, or no to it – or even allow access for a specific time frame – like Apple’s Find My Friends). I could imagine nerdy mates coming over and fucking shit up wit this lax control policy (it’s totally something I would do – turn a lamp on in the middle of the night). At least Belkin let you disable other devices from remotely controlling WeMo.
Within the WeMo app, you can do basic scheduling of the switch, like, “hey, turn on at 4PM and turn off at 6PM, every Monday” or “when the motion sensor notices there’s been nothing moving for 10 minutes, turn the goddamn electric heater off because it costs a fortune to operate”
The real fun begins however, when you hook WeMo up to a little website called If This, Then That. Some of you probably already know about IFTTT, but if you don’t, it’s a realllllyyy easy way to make all these Internet services like Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, etc. etc. interact with each other without a weird programming language. Just a plain English – “if (X) does that, then (Y) should do this”. Go check it out.
WeMo has added support for IFTTT, so this means I can do stupid shit like Tweet whenever the motion sensor detects I’ve walked down the hallway (like so), or if you the parcel you’re tracking leaves the depot for delivery, turn on a light so they know you’re home – 59 services currently integrate with IFTTT, way too many to list here, so take a look yourself.
There’s a few gotchas with IFTTT though – SMS doesn’t work for Australia (so no sending a text message to control a device, or getting an SMS when the cat walks past the sensor) and you can’t use Twitter as a trigger (so you can’t send a DM to your electric blanket to turn on), which is sad, but it doesn’t detract from the WeMo too much. If you have multiple WeMo devices of the same category (e.g: two WeMo switches, but one WeMo sensor), then you won’t be able to use both WeMo switches on the same IFTTT account. You can use a WeMo sensor and a WeMo switch simultaneously, but not two switches, as IFTTT can’t have multiple channels, or let you select a certain device within a switch or sensor channel. I’m sure it can be resolved easily enough, but right now, it no worky.
WeMo is easy to set up, works as advertised, has IFTTT support, but what the hell do you need it for? Personally, I’m struggling to come up a legit reason that requires sixty of my dollars to resolve via a Belkin WeMo. I’m positive there are uses for it that I can’t think of. I don’t think it works as a cost effective energy saving device as it would take a long time to save $60 from anything using standby power. Maybe if you have an electric heater or air conditioner (i.e: one that runs off a power socket and a simple on/off switch) you’d like to have on before you get home, I can see the use. Or maybe the motion sensor if you want to make sure something is turned off when there’s nobody in the room (e.g: turn off the damn air conditioner when there’s nobody in there!).
I really like the WeMo, and hope it goes places and Belkin expose the API to more developers and the price comes down.But all it does it make me wish every single power outlet in my home was wi-fi enabled so I can control the *entire* home like this. If you can find a use for the WeMo that $60 (or $120 if you need the sensor) can solve, then the WeMo is awesome.