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Amazon Echo

Alexa, Sonos, Smart Things, Harmony, Oh My

So I wasn’t invited to the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Alexa beta and I have some concerns about how Sonos activities are going to be handled with respect to Alexa’s voice recognition.

It isn’t exactly transparent how to add/configure the Harmony->Sonos->Smart Things->Alexa routines to start Playlists or Stations from your Sonos favorites after you’ve done an initial setup. You have to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty.

When you edit your Sonos favorites in any official Sonos App (add/remove, etc.) the Harmony App/Remote doesn’t necessarily reread the Sonos lists. To get a revised Sonos Favorites list to refresh for Harmony, you need to START a Sonos favorite, hit the star key on the bottom of the app, then scroll and hit REFRESH. Then you can edit that activity and select a new channel or add Activities and specify a Sonos favorite from the refreshed, up to date list.

Below is a screen shot of the first “page” of (scrollable) activities. The naming convention is something I’m working on, and I’ll explain a little further along in this post. Ideally, I should be able to use the same Activity Name across the board, but this turns out to be problematic and confusing.

harmony

When you’ve configured and tested your new or edited Activities, next step is to add a Thing to SmartThings. This, too, isn’t intuitive. Select the + on the Things screen on your phone, then Entertainment, Buttons/remotes. Select Logitech. Your already configured Harmony Hub will appear. Select it, watch the spinning cursor as it refreshes and pulls down your revised, increased list of Harmony Activities. Then select additional activities, watch the cursor spin and the app will populate with the revised list of activities.

Smart Things insists on adding [Harmony Remote] to the end of activities imported from Harmony; you’ll need to edit them to at least remove the [Harmony Remote]. To edit, tap the activity to open its page and then the gear wheel to edit the name. Here’s where the name game becomes interesting. I’ll come back to this when I’m done explaining the process to get all of this hooked up to Alexa for voice control.

smartthings

The final step is to access the Smart Home tab in the Alexa Echo app. If you have the SmartThings skill enabled, you will need to disable it and then enable it so that it can re-read the list of “Things”. Then you’ll need to re-run Discovery (a pop-up should automatically appear to action this). All of your new activities should now show in the Your Devices list. And you’ll need to do this each and every time you edit or add a “Thing”.

There’s a big gotcha to be aware of. You can’t use the Station name/Playlist Name in your Sonos Favorites. You can’t use any Artist name or recognizable Playlist Name because Alexa will ignore the SmartThings skill and play music natively on Echo/Dot.

Here’s how I learned what works and what doesn’t.

I discovered that when I selected an Amazon Playlist named ABBA (or even the Pandora ABBA Station) from Favorites for the channel to play from Sonos on the Harmony Activity named Sonos Music and linked it with SmartThings and enabled Alexa that every single time Alexa played something else named Sonos on the current Sonos speaker (or already grouped speakers). And completely ignored the SmartThings list. When I renamed the “Thing” to My Sonos in SmartThings and removed/re-added the skill in the Alexa App, I had better luck, but only some of the time.

I similarly had problems with a John Denver and a Judy Collins playlist in Favorites. Alexa consistently ignored the SmartThings skill and played music by (whomever) on the Echo or DOT. .

After the above limitations sunk in, I decided to try a task based name, Exercise Workout. I set that up and was able to use ANY Sonos favorite without confusing Alexa. So in SmartThings, I currently have Sonos Colorado for John Denver and Sonos Folk for Judy Collins (these work). I’ll have to come up with better, memorable names that are task based.

So now I’m going to finish the task of renaming activities on the Harmony and in SmartThings to get this Harmony-Sonos-SmartThings-Alexa setup to work 100% of the time. Probably using task based and/or some other convention that Alexa won’t recognize. If you have any ideas, let me know on Twitter @barbbowman.

And I hope that the same situation isn’t true with the coming “native” Alexa support for the Logi Harmony Ultimate.

Alexa, change colors on my Hue stuff (thanks Yonomi)

 

I love my Alexa enabled Connected Home and I love the Yonomi App. Amazon’s Echo Smart Home covers an amazing number of products and gets better all the time. One of the missing ingredients for my needs was the ability to change the colors on my Hue bulbs and Lightstrips. Alexa handles turning these on and off and dimming the bulbs, but color changes are not currently in her repertoire. IFTTT can handle single bulbs and Lightstrips and can change colors on a single light or Lightstrip or can change ALL of them at once, but not “scenes” or “routines” (two Lightstrips, or two Blooms, etc.); it’s all lights or just one of them. Once again, Yonomi comes to the rescue, and Alexa can now color my world and set my Hue devices to predefined (or even random) colors.

Most of my Hue gear is configured in pairs or threesomes. I don’t ever seem to turn on all my Hue lights (which are spread over the three floors of my Condo). It’s almost always one room at a time, and every so often, one floor at a time.

Here’s my kitchen, decked out with two sets of Hue Lightstrips showing two of my colored moods (scenes/routines) Kitchen Yellow and Kitchen Blue:

kitchen

 

Apple’s Siri, with scenes, allows me to tell Siri to turn on Kitchen Blue or Kitchen Yellow, but Alexa doesn’t support colors for Hue and IFTTT doesn’t support scenes or routines. Alexa is far more dependable than Siri (like 99.9%) and I was able to solve this last piece of my Connected Home with Yonomi.

First, inside the Yonomi App, I linked to my Hue Bridge. Then, I created two (for starters) Yonomi routines. I created Kitchen Blue and Kitchen Yellow. I turn each of the two Lightstrips on to 100% using Actions and set the color to Blue (or Yellow). There are lots of other options, including dimming, fading, random colors, but these are the two I wanted to start with. Once these were done, I open the Echo web app and ran discovery so that these two new routines were discovered and added to my device list.

Now I can tell Alexa to “turn on Kitchen Blue” or “turn on Kitchen Yellow”. It takes a few seconds, but the lights cooperate. I can turn both off by telling Alexa to “turn off the Kitchen” as this command IS covered using Alexa groups natively.

blueyellow

 

So, I find myself saying thank you again to the folks at Yonomi App for giving me the ability to fully control my Hue colored bulbs and Lightstrips.

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