Mike Slinn
Mike Slinn

Handsfree Studio

Published 2023-01-08. Last modified 2023-01-10.
Time to read: 5 minutes.

This page is part of the av_studio collection, categorized under Google, HandsfreeVoice.

This article starts by discussing Google software for voice control, then it discusses controlling devices in my studio.

Google Handsfree Products

Google Assistant, Google Home and Google Nest are apps that run on devices such as Android phones, iPhones, Android tablet, and iPads.

Google’s product management has always been weak at best, and chaotic at worst. This is readily apparent when attempting to figure out how to work with Google handsfree products.

Confusingly, smart speakers and TVs that incorporate Google technology are also called Google Home or Google Nest devices. Most of the articles I read online were either so vague as to confuse the function of these products, or stated incorrect information.

The relationship between Google Assistant, Google Home and Google Nest needs to be understood before they can be used to set up devices.

Google Assistant

Google Assistant was originally released as Google Allo in May 2016. It is designed to have conversations with you and is based on natural language processing to convert commands into actions. Google Assistant, like other digital voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri, requires a wake word to activate, which can be either “Okay Google” or “Hey Google”.

Google Assistant can be used standalone, or in concert with other Google products such as Google Home and Google Nest.

Google Assistant seems like a product with an axe hovering over its head. A significant investment is obviously required before this product could be considered out of beta, yet after years and years, this still seems like a skunkworks project.

Given Google’s track record, this probably means that Google Assistant will be offed without notice any day now. I hope an open source alternative quickly arises from the ashes.

Google Home

Google Home serves as a hub for home automation, which means it can control smart home devices. Google Home uses Google Assistant for dialoging with users via voice commands.

Unfortunately, both Google Home and Google Assistant on Android phones respond to “Okay Google” as well as “Hey Google”. This means that several devices within listening range might respond with different actions, which can be annoying.

The user interface for Google Home is abysmal. I have seen better work from high school projects. A competant product manager would not have allowed crap like that to ship. And yet, year after year, it drifts away from the little documentation that was originally written, never updated, wobbling on uncertain legs, not knowing what it would like to be if it ever grew up. Shameful, and a real issue for users. The entire industry of smart products suffers because of crappy foundational software like this.

A preview of Google Home for Web is now available, but it does not do anything.

Google Nest

In 2023, Google Nest is a brand name for the second generation of Google Home smart speakers, released in 2019. Google Nest is also the brand name for Google’s home security software, which was originally the result of an acquisition. Unlike Google Home, Google Nest requires a subscription.

Google Nest uses Google Home to control devices, and Google Home uses Google Assistant for voice control.

Google Nest only works with smart cameras, smart doorbells, smart speakers and certain displays. It is not suitable for controlling my studio’s devices, so I will not mention it again.

Smart Plugs

My studio has many on/off switches, awkwardly placed. They either get left on, burning electricity for no benefit, heating up the studio more than is desirable and wearing out equipment, or left off, which means they do not provide value.

In particular, powered speakers should not be left on, because these expensive items continue to wear out while they are ignored, and they noticeably heat up the room.

Voice-controlled A/C and USB plugs to the rescue! TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Mini smart plugs work with Google Assistant, Google Home, and a crucial software program called Kasa Smart App.

Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Mini

The best price that I could find was at dell.com.

TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Mini remote-control A/C outlets have a 2-year warranty, and works with Google Assistant and Amazon Echo.

The Kasa Wi-Fi Smart Plug Mini only supports 2.4GHz networks.

These instructions look nothing like what Google Assistant shows:

I had to fool around quite a bit before I could add the Kasa to Google Assistant. I suspect the details vary a lot every few months, as Google modifies the software without notice or explanation. The instructions in the video and on the webpages are completely useless.

I purchased two 4-packs, for a total of 8 voice-controlled A/C outlets for $80 CDN, plus tax. I also purchased 4 six-outlet A/C strips from the local dollar store for $4 CDN each, yielding a total of 24 outlets. $10 per Kasa outlet, amortized across a $4 six-outlet strip, means each switched A/C outlet on a strip costs about $2 plus tax when fully utilized.

Kasa Setup

Google Home integrated with the Kasa outlets easily, as per the usual Google Home indoctrination ritual for new devices.

Hey Google, turn on studio.

TP-Link’s instructions failed to mention that the Kasa app had to be installed and used before the Kasa devices would work with Google Home. Days later, after researching for hours, I discovered that the process of setting up a new device so Google Home could work with it is called provisioning. Install Kasa Smart app for iOS or the Kasa Smart app for Android, according to the devices you want to use.

Kasa Smart was awkward to work with, since I had no idea how it worked. I could not find any documentation. Google’s chaos, added to TP-Links’s disinterest in user experience means only the most motivated users are likely to realize ROI by acquiring and integrating this product.

The smart plug’s firmware updated once it was recogized by the TP-Link software. The main issue with this software is interacting with the user; the engineering seems solid.

Outlet Names

The outlet names I wanted to assign in Google Home were not possible. I will update this section as I figure things out. Here is what I envisioned:

  • “studio” — Everything in the studio, except cameras, computers, instruments and amplifiers, and including:
    • “speakers” — Two powered Samson Resolv RXA6 speakers.
    • “studio lights” — All studio lights, which includes:
      • “rear studio lights” — Rear studio LED strips and floodlights
      • “front studio lights” — Front studio LED strips and floodlights
      • “flood lights” — all Neewar floodlights
    • “studio tv”Samsung - 43 inch Q60B QLED 4K TV

Because Google handsfree products do not actually implement groups properly, this was impossible. I will update this page as I figure out workarounds. Boo, Google!

Alternatives

Stringify (no longer in business) was an IoT (Internet of Things) platform that allowed users to create data flows to automate their home, wearable devices and network services.

Alternative services include IFTTT (free), Home-Assistant.io, openHAB, Tasker and ioBroker.