This article was first published Friday Dec. 2, 2022 in my weekly newsletter.
Depending on your smart home platform, you may already be familiar with, or even using, device information to automatically make something happen in your home. Apple’s HomeKit platform, for example, allows for this, and I use this feature in my own home. Amazon offers limited but growing support for device triggers, while Google is just getting around to adding this feature through its new Household Routines.
The ability to use one device’s information as a trigger event for one or more other devices to change state is what I’d consider the next step forward for the smart home. It may not sound like a huge step, but it’s an important one. And as devices from different brands begin to communicate with one another through the new Matter standard, consumers will be able to get more value from the hardware and devices they buy or already own.
To illustrate, I’ll use one of my home’s device triggers. I’ll also use it to showcase the difference between a device trigger and a voice command or time-based routine.
I live in an end-unit townhome, so my front door is actually located on the side of the house. Way around the corner is the garage door. Next to the front door, I have a standard light fixture with a connected bulb. And over the garage door, I have the Eve Outdoor Cam with a floodlight.
Unfortunately, the two devices are on the same circuit, controlled by a standard switch inside the front door. Flip one switch and you light up the front porch and the driveway near the garage. Which makes sense when you realize the home was built 20 years ago. But in 2022, that’s not what I want. Why? Because I need that switch to always be on for the camera over the garage. If I do that, however, the front porch light is lit up day and night. So we don’t touch the switch. We leave it on and use a voice command to illuminate the porch as needed.
The problem is that our dog is getting older. Recently, he started to need a quick bio break in the middle of the night. The first few times this happened, we’d fumble for a phone to open our Home app and enable the porch light. Or we’d use voice commands, which would wake up whoever wasn’t walking the dog. Since neither was a good solution, I turned to a device trigger.
Now, whenever we manually unlock the smart lock on our front door, the front porch light automatically lights up for 10 minutes. After that, the light automatically goes out. That’s enough time to enable a quick doggie break and get back inside. And it’s all kicked off by that device trigger, as the smart lock being unlocked (only during hours of darkness, I might add) effectively tells the smart bulb to light up.
Unlike using a voice command or the tap of a button to tell the home what to do, my home is reacting to an event and taking an appropriate, albeit pre-defined, action.
You likely have different smart home devices and use cases. Maybe you want your Nanoleaf lights to do something when you’re on a phone call so that others nearby know you’re not available. Maybe you can’t hear your video doorbell and you want to have a light flash to indicate someone’s at the door. Or perhaps you want your smart air purifier on at full blast when your robot vacuum starts kicking dust around. There are plenty of situations where a device trigger is useful.
Alexa can currently use contact sensors, motion sensors, and cameras as device triggers, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve ever set up an Alexa Routine. When any of these device types change state, it can automatically trigger something in your home to happen. Maybe you set a light to flash when triggered by camera seeing something, for example. Amazon added this support through developer APIs back in 2018.
Google’s recently announced Household Routines are the start of similar support for advanced device triggers. For example, enabling presence detection on supported Google Nest devices can turn lights on when someone walks into a room. And the company says routines can now start when a device turns on or off. That’s not quite as advanced as my HomeKit example of controlling another device when a door is unlocked, but it’s useful progress. Google also announced an upcoming Script Editor feature for advanced routines, which will allow for more customized routines.
As the major smart home systems continue to evolve device triggers, they’ll be further helped by Matter. That’s because all Matter-certified devices of the same type, regardless of the brand, use a common set of attributes.
Below is an example of such attributes for connected lights, directly from the Matter spec:
Today my HomeKit lock can’t tell an Amazon or Google device that the door is unlocked because each vendor created its own version of these device specifications. But eventually, with the right application support combined with Matter’s application layer “language,” that will become possible. In a perfect situation where Matter is widespread, a device from any brand can be the trigger for devices from other brands to do something of value.
For now, though, events triggered by devices are a bit fragmented. I’d still recommend checking your smart home ecosystem mobile app to see which device trigger capabilities are available now. And watch for updates as the Matter implementation starts gaining momentum over the coming months.
If all goes as planned, by this time next year your smart home might be doing more for you on its own than by you speaking commands or using a mobile app.