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Amazon Will Soon Let the Echo Control Your Connected Thermostats

January 15, 2016, 7:58 PM UTC
Stacey Higginbotham/Fortune

The Amazon Echo, the connected speaker that uses voice recognition to answer questions, control lights, and plays games, is slated to add another home appliance to its repertoire: thermostats, according to sources who work with the Amazon Echo platform.

Homeowners will be able to tell Alexa, the digital assistant that controls Echo, “Turn up the heat to 70.” Certain connected thermostats will be able to do just that. Those thermostats could include Nest, Ecobee, certain connected Honeywells and others.

Before, very ambitious Echo users would have to use If This Then That, a web service that lets people link their Echo to a variety of connected home devices including Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell connected thermostats. But that takes an extra step and minimal “programming” that many won’t do.

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When asked about the plans for thermostats, Amazon’s spokeswoman, Brittany Turner said, “Amazon Echo customers can control many smart home devices today with their voice by just asking Alexa, including lights, and thermostats and more through IFTTT. We look forward to adding more devices soon.”

The Amazon Echo lets companies access its platform in two different ways. They can do so natively, which means that after telling the Echo to discover new devices, a consumer just asks Alexa or Amazon (the two words that wake up the device) to “turn on the kitchen lights” and the kitchen lights turn on. The other way a company can access the Amazon Echo platform is by building a skill. If the company does this, a consumer has to go into the Alexa app to enable the skill and then use a special voice command to turn the skill on. Consumers can then just reference the skill’s name whenever they give the command.

For example, the LIFX light bulbs don’t have native support, and instead use a skill. So the design requires the user to activate the LIFX skill in the Amazon Alexa app and then say, “Alexa, ask LIFX what can I do with my lights?” Then, Alexa connects to the user’s LIFX account. The LIFX website recommends that users pronounce LIFX correctly—it’s [LIFE-X]. After the accounts are connected and enabled users then say “Alexa, tell LIFX to turn on the Kitchen lights.”

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The experience is slightly different, but the reason the LIFX and so many other firms turn to skills is because the options are much richer. In the case of lights, users can create scenes or set colors where in the native setting, users can only turn lights on and off and set different brightness levels. One unnamed source says the reason for the spareness of the native support is because getting the verbal commands right is a challenge.

For power Amazon Echo users, adding native thermostat support means that they should be able to group thermostats in with lights to create Good Night or Good Morning settings that works with lights. This would allow them to tell Alexa “good morning,” and then have lights come on and the temperature to change accordingly. Currently, anything like that has to be done with a skill.