Quick show of hands: How many of you smart home owners actively use scenes in your house? This might surprise you but, my hand is not raised.
Scenes are arguably one of the most useful features of a smart home for many people. These are customized shortcuts that typically tie together several device actions for a specific purpose, such as watching a movie. In that particular case, your “movie time” scene might dim your living room lights, turn on your connected television set and then fire up Netflix, for example.
While I realize this is a very specific and personal scenario, scenes like this don’t work in my house for a few reasons.
For starters, I’m the only one who actively uses the many smart speakers and displays we have installed. And there are plenty of them: Two Sonos One speakers that can use either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, two Nest Hub smart displays, one 10-inch Lenovo SmartDisplay, a Google Home speaker, two Google Home Mini speakers and a pair of Nvidia Shield TV set-top boxes, which both have the Assistant built in. So too does my Pixel Slate tablet and my Pixel 3XL phone. I also have Amazon Alexa capabilities in my slowly dying Vector robot and an Echo Dot that I use solely for testing since I’m generally all-in with Google in my smart home at the moment.
Even with all of these assistant devices, neither my wife nor my daughter will speak to the home except in very rare instances. I have my living room lights power down at 11 pm each night, for example, so if my daughter is up late watching TV, she’ll occasionally ask Google to turn the lights back on. More often than not, she’ll just continue watching in the dark.
Since my wife is also averse to telling Google what to do in the house, I’ve had to replace a scene with timed automations for her.
She wakes every morning for work around 5:15 am and generally heads down to the kitchen by 5:45 am. Instead of creating a “good morning” scene that she won’t use, I have the kitchen lights automatically turned on for her by 5:30 am so that she won’t walk downstairs into a dark room. If I join her in the morning, I ask the smart display to watch the local news on its 10-inch screen. She seems to enjoy the news when I’m there, but if I’m not, or if I join her late – the news isn’t on. Why? Because she won’t ask Google to tune in.
Ideally, a good morning scene would handle both of these tasks for her – as well as preheating the June oven for her morning hash browns, but the June oven doesn’t yet integrate with Google Home — but again, she simply won’t speak the magic words to make this happen.
Of course, if her schedule changes, which it does in the summer as she sleeps in a little later, the current automation is essentially wasting energy.
Another reason I don’t have scenes like the “movie time” example is because I watch my content on just about every room in the house. No, we don’t have TVs everywhere, but much of my content consumption takes place on my Pixel Slate via YouTube TV, Netflix, and Hulu. If my wife is catching up with The Bachelorette on the big screen, I’ll just zone out with House Hunters International (don’t judge me!) in another room on my tablet. A scene isn’t going to help me there.
Even if I go to another room with a TV, the scene — technically a native “routine” in Google-land — has to be specifically set up for that room. Creating the same scene over and over for different rooms with unique screens simply isn’t worth it for me. Ideally, I’d like to see scenes for the Google Home be room location independent so the home knows which TV and lights to modify for that “movie time” scene.
I suppose if swapped out the Wink Hub that controls many of my devices, or added other bridges and hubs, I could create complex scenes for specific rooms. The time and effort of doing so, in addition to being the only person in my house that would actually use them, doesn’t seem worth it to me.
I’m probably an outlier and maybe my issue is that I rely on a limited Wink hub, but I’d like to hear from folks that both do and don’t use scenes in their smart home. Are you too the only person in the house or apartment using them? Have you bothered to set them up and/or do you use them daily or just once in a while? Let me know in the comments and maybe you’ll change my mind on being scene-averse.
Jon Smirl says
Scenes are better is large, complex houses. For example I have one room with eight different runs of controlled lighting. There are keypads on the wall at the room doorways. The buttons on the keypads set various scenes. My family does not know they are using scenes, they just know which button to push for how they are going to use the room.
On the other hand, much more of our automation is controlled via timers. Two useful timers scenarios – sunset, sunrise, midnight (everyone is in bed). And to set delays. There are several rooms in the house where the kids never turn the lights off when they leave. I got tired of them leaving the lights on so I made a program that delays for an hour and then turns then off. Kids occasionally did not like the lights suddenly shutting off, so now the program starts slowly dimming them as a warning.
A non-obvious place to put relay switches is in the attic. Again I got tired of people leaving the lights on in the attic and wasting electricity for months because you can’t tell they are on. With a relay switch you can set a program which turns all of these switches off at midnight each night.
Antonio H says
Kevin, I’m surprised you’re not a scene person. I’m the only person in my 1,700 sqft home. I use a hub from Nexia.
I use scenes everyday but I have a variety. I use scenes that are voice activated, geo location activated, time based and motion sensor based. All of my scenes can be activated by voice or pressing a button in the Nexia app.
My scenes are confined to various modes so that they’re not active when they shouldn’t be.
Some of my most used scenes are movie time, arrive home from work (geo location activated), wake up Mon-Fri (time based), wake up weekend mornings (voice activated bc I wake up at different times), good night (voice activated bc I go to bed at different times), vacation (time and mode based; combination of IFTT, Harmony and Nexia; activated by voice when I leave the house), work (voice based for when I leave for work), away (voice activated for I leave the house for an extended period of time that’s not work related).
Like about 80% of smart home stuff, the work required doesn’t pay off in convenience delivered to set up scenes. They also assume a rigidity in the home life that isn’t really reflected in how fluid most families are in how and when they do things. It seems like the solution lies in two directions: Better home hubs that make it easier to hook in multiple services, so dimming lights and getting Netflix running isn’t a multi-step process, and something closer to the predictive AI we’re starting to see on smartphones, where my phone automatically knows that I tend to drop off my kid at school at a certain time, or head home from work, and provide information. Most people don’t want to talk to their home, and maybe that changes, but my guess is that the number remains low.
Rick Tinker says
Agree with several of Jon Smirl’s points. You definitely get more scenes with a larger, more complex home, and “scenes” (events) drive by a button push get used much more often than voice control by those voice adverse people. So if you are the “automator” for your home, finding good ways for the other people to launch a scene/event with a button that is handy can help a lot.
There are really three ways to do something that is not automated – that is, done on an ad hoc basis:
1. Use voice.
2. Use the app that comes with your gateway/controller/device on a smartphone, xxx-pad, or wall touchscreen.
3. Program a button or other such input (Fibaro Swipe is a lot of fun) to launch it another way.
None really stand out as the best because as you have experienced Kevin, it is a personal thing – some people just do not like the voice assistants. For years, I used a lot of buttons in my former home because the smartphone app took too long to load or it took too long to find what I wanted once I got it going – but in the latter days before I sold my home, the app loaded instantly and I put things I did often in a quick access area like SmartThings has now, and that made a huge difference – I found I was using my smartphone more often than voice, not only because I hate having to think ahead of time for the right way to say something, but what if I am reading in bed and forgot to turn something off and my wife is sleeping next to me? Using a voice assistant when she is asleep is definitely not a good move.
So I am not fully on the side of your wife and daughter, but I understand – the “automator” of a home has to consider the other people and see what they can do to make them control it comfortably too.
Some interesting points raised. We are primarily an Apple house so siri is our assistant of choice. For similar reasons, I also use scenes in a very limited capacity. I can’t help but feel they are a bit of a technological dead end for the simple reason that they really aren’t very smart. As you point out, they have no contextual awareness (room occupancy, time of day/season) so a “run morning routine’ request would turn on lights when it’s dark in the morning during winter and continue to turn on the lights unnecessarily when it is light in the summer. As an enthusiast, I can deal with this or use some scripting to resolve, but like you, for many scenarios, it’s simply not worth the complexity of implementing.