What is the best way to interract with Smart Home in daily use?

Hi there,

As topic suggests I wanted to ask opinion of experienced users of smart homes, what is in their mind the perfect or closest to perfect way to let smart house to know, what you want. E.g. turn light on or off, close or open something, adjust temperature setpoint etc. So in principle everything, which in normal house is controlled by wall switches.

Offcourse the perfect way is to automate everything, but this is a hard work to be honest.

I’m still only started with smart home and have many ideas, but I believe not of them are actually usable. For example I currently use Smartphone because I have no switches at all, but it doesn’t look to be convenient way of controlling the light, because I need to press a lot before I can turn it on.

What about tablets on the walls? Voice? Gestures? Or still wall switches? Let me know your experience!

For me it’s wall switches. Everything should work with openhab turned off (maybe just not as well).

Everything else should just enhance the experience.

When I can I’ll get an Amazon Echo (UK :frowning:) as I think thats probably a nice enhancement, and I really like how rotini is coming on so I can see me mounting a tablet when I’m “done”… not sure when that will be though!

Because of the above I’m finding things like the philips hue coloured lights tough. Without using a phone it’s not easy to change the colour.

As you already said, no interaction (= automation) ist the perfect way. :slight_smile:

But the next best thing is different for everybody and for every situation, I guess.

Wall mounted tablets are very nice.

  • They can display information and give you virtual buttons.
  • Comperaed to smart phones the controlling app is already openes on the device.
  • They are more expensive than other “buttons” so you are not going to install them in every corner of the house.


  • It (almost) always by your side.
  • Control everything remotely when not at home
  • you need to reopen the app most of the time
  • displays information

There are ways to interact with your smart home with a remote (e.g. Logitech Harmony)

  • many buttons on a small device
  • handy
  • integration in multimedia scenes
  • the remote is most of the time located on your couch

Voice interaction like Amazon Echo

  • feels natural and intuitive (in a perfect world)
  • works in every (?) corner of your room
  • may not be that easy to implement yet
  • still a new technology
  • you may disturb other people when talking to your home :slight_smile:

buttons/wall switches (e.g. Flic)

  • not that expensive
  • can be placed wherever you need them
  • easy and intuitive to use
  • limited actions (like ON and OFF)


  • I think you are limited to a specific place where your gesture sensor is located.
  • you need more specific movement than a simple press on any virtual or physical button.

I like the wall switches for my “not smart” lights in the kitechen.
When I am carrying something from my citechen to my living room and my hands are full, I just tap the switch with my elbow to turn of the light.
There is no need for automation in this example.

But my living room lights (LIFX) turn off automatically when my projector starts. And vice versa. :slight_smile:

For manually controlling my smart lights I am going to setup my Flic buttons.
They can circle through me pre defined light scenes with a simple press.
Or even start anything else with a double press or long press.
But you need some kind of bluetooth gateway.

Hi Christoph. Thank you for so nice comparison.

Concerning Smartphones vs everything else - I see there is also one drawback - friends, relatives and children are not able to use it, because they don’t have app installed or even phone. So it cannot be a sole means of interaction. Only as a secondary tool.
I found it recently, coming back home at 8 PM and finding my kid, sitting in the darkness :slight_smile:

As a matter of fact I found, that small tablet is currently priced as a good z-wave wall switch. So this “-” is distinguishing. So for me here the comparison is really handiness. For example there might be some distortion factor, that Tablet always has a backlight on, which might be disturbing in the night, but theoretically this can be fixed.

I like to tell people “If it requires direct human interaction is is a Home Automation failure.” It is an admittedly hyperbolic an unrealistic statement but it always generates great conversations.

In short several sub-goals are intended to be captured in this statement:

  • The house should just do it on its own based in what the house knows at the time. For example, lights should turn on when it’s dark and someone enters a room. HVAC should maintain a desired temperature when someone is home.

  • There are clearly situations where complete automation is not possible. In those cases the computer controlled interface must be as easy or easier to use than the traditional interface. For example, turning on the light should be as easy or easier than flipping a wall switch.

  • Guests, children, and house members who currently can’t find their phone must be able to control those aspects of the system that do require human interaction. I find that the traditional interfaces (e.g. wall switches, the physical Nest interface, etc. work the best but I can see a dedicated mounted tablet or a remote control being suitable as well.

  • There are also clearly situations where you will want to override the automated behavior and the way one overrides it must likewise be as easy to use as the traditional interface.

  • If it is not fully automated or the user interface is not easy to use, the system must be able to do something that is impossible/impractical to do through manual means.

If the automation cannot meet these criteria then IMHO it should not be considered. So these so called “smart light bulbs” are a non-starter to me because they require an interface that is less convenient than switching a light switch. One could argue the ability to control color makes it fit into my last category above in which case that is a compelling use case for you, but I personally have no interest in adjusting the color of my lights so it doesn’t work for me.

So whenever I want to start a new Home Automation project I make sure it meets those criteria and if they don’t and I can’t see a way to eventually grow them to that point then I do not do the project. I find this results in a more usable home with a huge WAF.

Sometime these factors also result in a case where the automation does not even need to be integrated with with OH.

To give an example of what I’m talking about I’ll reference my lighting. I have four lights that are automated in some way: garage, porch, and two lamps.

The garage is automated with a simple motion sensor and not integrated with OH at all. All I need is for the light to turn on when I enter the garage and stay on long enough for me to get what I need so a cheap motion sensor light switch is perfect. I don’t really need to know in OH whether the light is on or not because I know it will shut itself off on its own. And I have an IP camera there which I could have report the light turning on or off if I really needed that.

The porch is controlled with a zwave switch and the lamps are controlled with zwave outlets. They are programmed to come on and turn off based on sunrise and sunset. One lamp turns on 30 minutes before sunrise and off at sunrise and the rest come on 90 minutes before sunset and off at 11. The two lamps also turn on when the weather code says it is likely to be cloudy right now but only between sunrise and 90 minutes before sunrise.

This last behavior can be overridden on a light by light basis by manually switching the physical light switch or on a light by light basis or all lights at once through the sitemap. It is a tad awkward for the lamps because you have to press a button on the outlet for the lamps instead of the lamps physical switch, but I’ve found it very rare that the behavior has to be overridden and it is still less awkward than requiring the use of a phone.

Here is another example to show how I deal with things that cannot be completely automated.

I have two garage door openers, one of which the remotes quit working and it is too old to get a replacement. So I have a relay wired to the door buttons controlled by a Raspberry Pi. So it is possible to open or close through the sitemap. This is clearly less convenient than pressing a traditional garage door remote. Therefore I had to take a two pronged approach to make it as easy: Android and iPhone.

For Android I use Tasker with AutoLocation which is able to detect when I am driving and to pop up a dialog when I’m driving and ask if I want to open the garage. Since I drive with my phone mounted all I have to do is press the one button which appears to open the garage which is as easy as pressing the one.

For iPhone this really isn’t possible so for my wife I got a zwave scene controller (Minimote) and all she needs to do is press the one button to open/close the garage.

The button on the wall still works as well. So now I have the garage computer controlled with all of the new capabilities that enables yet it is still as easy to use as a traditional garage.


Well, don’t set the target to have everything automated , but identify those interactions that are a) repetitive and b) simple to implement. That’s most of the lighting and HVAC stuff. Deploy motion and door/window sensors, and use time triggers. Implement scenes so you don’t have to press multiple buttons in the morning, after work, at nighttime (it’s annoying, no matter whether they’re physical or virtual switches).

Tablets are never where you need them to be, unless you deploy dozens of them. Costly and doesn’t look good at all.
Gestures require tablets.
Use smartphones instead. Eventually deploy NFC to launch habdroid (although I admit I have deployed some but don’t really use them).

Voice might make for a nice niche solution (to command more complex scenes, or for stuff that you don’t use often so you don’t want to spend a wall switch for it). But there’s no convincing solution available (like a fully integrated Echo that does not reveal any data to anybody). Also, some things you sometimes don’t want to speak out, be it because you don’t want to make noise, or don’t want to have someone listen to you talking to a computer, or because you feel it’s quite often simpler and faster to push a button.

That’s why my favorite is still wall switches, albeit ‘intelligent’ ones.
You have them in place, and you will want to keep them as a backup in case your system fails, plus everybody who’s not familiar with your HA algorithms will know how to use them.
By ‘intelligent’ I mean to add functionality to existing switches. I’m using zwave device connected momentary switches that offer the well-known on/off, but you can also double- or triple-click or press-and-hold them. You are free to program what is to happen in these cases. For example, a triple-click on my staircase’s light switch triggers a bedtime lighting scene, plus an alarm checkup of the house perimeter.
You can even make say a double-click trigger different actions, depending on time of day or other dynamic parameters.
You can also deploy multi-button switches or mobile ones (a.k.a. minimotes).