Going through a kitchen rebuild….read half a house house rebuild…..I thought I’d check out all the internet of things I can buy for a kitchen or connected house.

I did it out of interest in the earlier stages, but found nothing that life changing. Yes I could put a turkey in the microwave and it would work out what it was and cook it accordingly. Or my fridge could tell me what was going out of date and play me a video of what to make with it. I could have buttons to press to reorder soap. Quite.

I got as far as ordering a starter set from Philips for its Hue connected lights. We tried it out in the kitchen and five minutes later got bored and never touched it again.

So the best technology we bought for the kitchen was… the Aga ! Solid, dependable and everyone we know says life changing.

Then it all changed.

I pre bought Amazon’s Echo with “Alexa” on the Prime offer at £100. On the UK launch date it arrived and when I got home that night I put in the wifi password and we were off. Within 5 minutes, pressing buttons was sooo not right. At the mention of the word, sorry, her name ‘Alexa’ the glowing ring of 100% attention was addictive. But then in the night something happened…..

“Alexa, what time is it?” “It’s 4.34am”. Goes back to sleep. Beep, beep, beep…. “Alexa switch off the alarm”. “Alexa, what’s the news?” “Alexa, How did Man United do?” “Alexa, What’s the weather doing?” ….. Time to get up and pack: “What’s the weather in Singapore next week?” “Alexa. play David Bowie”. OMG.

By the time the morning was out, Siobhan, my lovely Irish wife hated Alexa. Every time we spoke on the phone, my opening line wasn’t “hi darling how are you?”. It was “Alexa, pause” !! “There’s three of us in this relationship….” said Siobhan, “…and that’s not good!”.

So at the weekend Siobhan arrived and after a while I asked if she tried out Alexa yet. So she did… “Alexa #### off!” came the chilling Irish war cry!

“Thank you for the feedback” came the response and we were in stitches. A few hours later, in the night, I heard “Alexa what time is it?”. Hooked.

So point 1 – Super simple to set up. Super simple to use. It’s completely about the usability as well as any capability.

Subsequently I brought the Philips Hue in with a couple of bulbs for the bedside lamps. The connecting was simple enough, except one doesn’t work. At £45 a bulb, it’s not enough that I have to press a light switch LOL. The set up was a bit clunky but just about manageable. But I’m not convinced I’ve missed something which is causing the other light to fail. Anyone the working one is adopted… “Alexa, switch on the bedroom light”. “Alexa, dim the bedroom light to 50%”. “Alexa, switch of the bedroom light”. Everything else feels clunky after that.

So I started looking for more connectivity with intent. I already specified I wanted Nest to control the heating and smoke / CO alarms. So starting from there, I set about researching door locks and video door bells and …… the ability to give people access keys or see and speak to delivery people when we’re not there.

Last year I’d tried to buy a remote access key so I could use the house door like any car door. But after a very expensive purchase and a visit, it couldn’t be fitted to my kind of door. Response had been ‘change the door’ – forget that!

So this time things seemed to have moved on. Via Nest’s ‘Works with Nest‘ page there are all sorts of things to connect to. Most I have to say, did not look life changing. But being able to walk up the door with just your phone in your pocket and not need a key – that’s exactly what I wanted. Kevo seemed to be the answer. So after much reading on the Kevo site, the online tech mags and the Amazon UK site I forked out nearly £400 so my door is integrated with my phone and the heating knows when I, or any specific person we’ve issued a phone key to, left and the lights go out etc. And we bought the Ring product that integrates with all that to give me remote video access and conversation with visitors. At no small expense.

And then Amazon’s email confirmed. And a few days later it confirmed it had shipped – but wasn’t delivering for nearly a month – weird. So suspiciously I dug a little harder. All the magazine reviews still rated this product the winner – but eventually I got to the Amazon US reviews and boy this is a Marmite of a lock with many people just saying it didn’t work, had unlocked itself etc etc. Cancellation time. And it isn’t supported in the UK

So onwards and upwards – now Yale locks…they must be good surely. Yay box to e Linus links with Nest and is coming in….2016…2017 depending where you look. Hmmm. Their next down integrates with Z wave which means another box and integration. I’ll give in and just get an unconnected Yale lock with key card, a fob, a key pad…..

I read everything but as I’m in stores hunting for something else (sic) I buy one in Maplin. Very helpful staff who seem very knowledgeable. I give said lock to my mate who is building the door and he’s happy. Til the next day when it turns out you had to buy another lock to go on the inside of the door. Nobody mentions that. Darn it, back off to the shops.

Meanwhile I had been trying to buy the Nest Thermostat. A tour of the nearby major town proving quite unproductive. Googling stockists produced no meaningful results and a call into B&Q was never answered. The John Lewis store did answer but a bored individual from nowhere near Tunbridge Wells said they didn’t sell them. Interestingly I could have sworn I’d seen them in there when trying to buy carpet. Yes… they are on the website, I just looked. After abortive visits into 3 stores I managed to get 1 thermostat, not in the colour I wanted and no smoke alarms. The common rallying cry was we can order you one to be delivered….. Might as well have stayed on the web! So I came home an ordered online painlessly from Nest direct.

Meanwhile the carpets… don’t get me started on John Lewis’ buying process, the bored contact centre agents who clearly aren’t interested, the unreturned calls, the systems down, the repeat that all over again stuff. I gave up. I bought from the small shop in the small town. He didn’t use email, but he could help you choose, measure and buy carpet.

So the moral of the story…. At a time of forking out large sums of money, most people still can’t take it off you. For all the talk of connected homes and devices, for all the hype of omni-channel this that and the other. It still takes an enormous amount of endless focus on the experience to get it right. Well done Nest. Well done Amazon. Keep trying … or start trying, the rest. It’s the user experience dummy. It needs endless testing and improvement. It has to be your DNA.


PS – I’ll let you know how we get on connecting everything up….

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