Freelance technical communicator to the stars. Podcaster, video maker, writer of interactive fiction
Connected devices are proliferating our homes with fridges, light bulbs, watches, (and soon) plants, bins, and who-knows-what streams of data around the globe.
Ignoring the question of a need for connected devices, one of the significant issues with the number of devices is all the competing apps, standards, and platforms that you need to manage. Each device manufacturer generally needs its own application, of varying quality, and with some devices reporting duplicate information, how do you make your connected home a smart home?
I recently reviewed a list of platforms that aim to do just that, uniting connected devices into one platform and allowing you to manage them and view their data in one place. One of the options I featured was Conrad Connect, and being a local business, they offered me a variety of devices to test the platform thoroughly and report back on what I found.
Conrad Connect follows similar paradigms to other connected devices platforms, with triggers and data points for devices and outputs, such as messaging systems, spreadsheets, IFTTT, and more. All of these devices are connectable with a drag and drop interface that is relatively easy for anyone to use, but with some polish needed. The team behind the project is operating as a start-up within the company and making changes quickly.
First, I’ll cover the devices I tested, as even with a platform that attempts to improve your experience with them, some devices offer more to integration platforms than others.
Spotcam makes a range of connected cameras for a variety of purposes, but mostly for security. I am not too fussed about security monitoring, so I instead opted to set up a camera that watched for whenever our cat went to eat its food, logging the times in a spreadsheet and recording a photo.
The Spotcam device is well made and comes with brackets to mount the camera in a way that suits you. The software, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The web client requires you to install Flash, and I have not encountered an application that needed Flash for a very long time. Considering they also have iOS and Android applications available I couldn’t understand why the web client needed a piece of software that is verging on being abandoned by its creators. With Flash installed the interface is still sluggish, outdated and ugly, the mobile apps aren’t much better, but they get the job done.
Another negative of the platform is that it claims brazenly on the box to give you access to a “free secured cloud — forever,” but this isn’t entirely true. To keep recordings for more than a day (which realistically is what you need), you have to pay. To use any of the AI services to spot people or animals, you need to pay. All in all, this makes the camera somewhat useless without buying a handful of their subscription packages.
Not to worry, Conrad Connect means that at least you can capture key moments from the camera. I added the device source by connecting my Spotcam account to my Conrad Connect account, selecting the trigger events, where I want to send the data to, and the data I want to send. You can have multiple inputs and outputs and chain them together, my final cat cam project sends data to an Excel spreadsheet, and sent me an email everytime the cat had something to eat.
Wiz produces a range of smart bulbs for different lamp sizes and types. They are well made, and the app is also well developed and offers a lot of functionality. Unfortunately, they don’t expose a lot of this functionality to 3rd parties, such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Conrad Connect. I recently spoke to a member of their staff at IFA, and they acknowledged this as a shortfall they are fixing soon.
Conrad Connect currently only has access to the
off state of Wiz lamps, and not any of the scenes or fine-grained controls. This does mean that you can use external triggers, such as the time, weather, or Slack, to switch the lamps on and off into their default setting.
As far as I can tell, Sygonix is a Conrad house brand for a series of connected power sockets. As they are relatively generic Chinese products, the hardware and software aren’t great, and they aren’t that pretty. As plugs in Europe don’t have switches, these were the devices I was most keen on trying, so I could switch devices off from the socket. It was only when I started to set the plugs up did I realize that maybe I had got used to having sockets with no switches, and I struggled to find any valid use cases for them. I also wondered if the power overhead of maintaining a Wi-Fi module (which is a concern for many connected devices) was higher than having a device in standby mode.
I noticed that Conrad Connect had a value for the sockets for the wattage, which seemed to be a great way of monitoring device consumption. I connected the output to a spreadsheet and defined the range I’d like to check for, but I could never get any values apart from 0, so I’m not sure what I got wrong.
Conrad Connect has elements in common with a lot of the platforms featured in my earlier post as well as less visual and more general tools, such as IFTTT. The combination of a workflow builder and visual output is a compelling combination for those who want to see everything in one place. Figuring out how to trigger events takes a lot of trial and error, and response times from some devices and services was slow at times.
I am still trying to find the perfect use cases for connected devices in my life, but using Conrad Connect helped me explore the potential, I was especially pleased with the Wiz light bulbs, which I am now regularly using. The platform needs some work, but it’s nice to have a European option on the market backed by a company with years of expertise. It’s something of a genius move from a company that owns a large retail business selling electronics to create a platform that connects many of them. During a recent conversation I had with the project lead, I was told that in addition to this source of revenue, and premium accounts (that allow you to create more projects), they also intend to explore affiliate revenue from subscription services. This idea fits back into where I opened this article, needing a platform to help you filter and manage all the information your devices are gathering and all the requests they are making.
You can listen to an interview with Andreas Bös, the senior director of Conrad Connect below.
Originally published at dzone.com.
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