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Belkin's WeMo: iPhone-based home automation with a taste of IFTTT

In my futuristic dreams, I'm able to control everything in my house from my iPhone. That dream might not be too far off, thanks to the Belkin WeMo system. The WeMo currently consists of two hardware devices -- a Wi-Fi equipped power switch/outlet and a Wi-Fi equipped motion sensor -- plus a free WeMo iOS app; the entire Belkin WeMo system is an easy way to move into home automation. Let's take a look.

Setting up the devices

You can currently buy the WeMo switches for US$49.99 each or a set with a switch and a motion sensor for $99.99. I chose to buy the set, as I have some "experiments" I want to try.

Belkin obviously looked at how other companies were doing setup of wireless devices and chose to come up with the most simple method possible. To get both switches working took me less than three minutes.

You begin by plugging the device into a standard wall outlet. At first, a small light flashes blue and red to indicate that the device isn't configured. Launching the WeMo app, you're given instructions on how to proceed. First, go to iPhone Settings, tap Wi-Fi and select the WeMo's temporary WiFi network. Next, go back to the app, where the device appears in a list. You tell the app the name of your normal home or office Wi-Fi network, enter the password for that network, and then choose whether to store the settings in the app.

Doing the latter step makes set up of all other devices a real snap, as the app already knows the name and password for the network. And with that, you're done.

After I played around with turning lights on and off for a while, I noticed that there was a firmware update for the WeMo boxes. The process for updating is easy. You basically tap a button on the iPhone screen and wait for about three minutes.

Using the app and setting rules

There's not too much to say about the app, other than once again it's simple. There are tabs for switches, sensors and rules.

For the switches, you'll see a list of all WeMo switches on your network. Each switch, which you can give a custom name, has an on/off button. Tap the button, the device is turned on and the button turns green. Tap it again, the button goes back to gray and the device is turned off.

With the motion sensor, there's not a lot you can do until you set up a rule. Rules are exactly that -- "turn on the living room lamp if the laundry room entrance sees motion on Mondays between 2 and 4 PM" as an example.

Rules can also be used with the switches. You can choose to program a switch to go on or off at a specific time, or you can turn something on, then off again a few hours later. But the built-in rules are rather simple...

WeMo, meet IFTTT

Whoever the person was at Belkin who had the brilliant thought to integrate WeMo with If This Then That (IFTTT.com) should get a big raise.

If you've never used IFTTT before, give it a try. There are currently 50 "channels" on IFTTT, with everything from Twitter and Facebook to ESPN and weather. You create "recipes" that perform a certain action if a specific trigger is met. For example, I use a recipe that tweets the URL of every post that I write on TUAW from my Twitter account.

What does this have to do with WeMo? Well, there are IFTTT channels for the WeMo motion detector and switch. This opens up all sorts of possibilities. Say you want to receive a text message whenever your cat uses the litter pan. You set up a motion detector next to the litter pan, and every time el gato feels the need to go, you get tweeted.

There are even wilder things you can set up. Plug a fan into a WeMo switch, then set up an IFTTT recipe to turn the fan on if the local outside temperature goes above 85° F (I tried this -- it works). Have IFTTT call you whenever someone enters the house (it works). And if you want to shut that fan off, you can either write another recipe or just use the WeMo app to shut it off remotely.

For push notifications, mix in a dash of Pushover and those emails and phone calls you're receiving on your iPhone turn into regular old notifications.

Conclusion

While the components are a little pricey, the WeMo system is probably about the easiest home automation system to configure. Anyone can set up this system in minutes, then proceed to control lights, fans, appliances, and more from their iPhone anywhere there's data service. With the IFTTT integration, it's possible to set up a huge variety of recipes to mix and match apps and services to work at your command.

Pros

  • If WeMo was any more simple to set up, it would set itself up
  • iPhone app is well written and easy to use
  • Firmware updates are installed with one tap of a button
  • Remote access extends your reach to your home lights and appliances to anywhere with data service
  • Attractive design
  • IFTTT integration turns a simple set of devices into a home automation powerhouse

Cons

  • A bit on the expensive side, but still affordable for many

Who is it for?

  • Anyone who wants to dabble with iPhone-controlled home automation but doesn't have the skills or patience to build their own hardware or write their own apps.