First Look at Belkin’s WeMo Home-Automation System for iPhone, iPad
Belkins brand new home-automation system that's controlled by iOS devices won't be available until later this month, but CIO.com blogger Paul Mah managed to get his hands on the gadget early. Here's everything you need to know.
By Paul Mah, CIO
UPDATE: Screenshots of the iOS app taken down upon request by Belkin. The company has hinted of additional tweaks being made to it prior to the official launch of WeMo. In addition, Belkin says it will be sending me a production version shortly – I’ll update this review as necessary.
Belkin’s cool new WeMo device makes home automation easy, according to the company, and it lets you control a variety of home-entertainment and other functions using iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. Belkin’s WeMo system consists of a number of components that connect to your Wi-Fi network. WeMo can then be managed using the WeMo iPhone or iPad app. Unlike many similar home automation systems, WeMo is completely modular and you can add as many nodes as you want to increase its usefulness.
How WeMo Works
Two WeMo devices exist at the moment: a WeMo Switch; and the WeMo Motion. The WeMo Switch plugs into your wall outlet and effectively becomes a remote-controlled power socket that switches connected devices on or off at your command. WeMo Motion also plugs into a wall socket, and it has a six-foot power cord that attaches to a motion sensor. That sensor has a range of 10 feet, according to Belkin.
Both the WeMo Switch and WeMo Motion connect to your wireless network, and the WeMo iOS app automatically detects the components. You can connect a variety of home appliances to the WeMo Switch by plugging them in to the component. Then you can turn those appliances on and off using the app, and you can also create rules so the appliances turn off at predefined times or turn on when the WeMo sensor detects motion. Such rules can be specific to individual WeMo-connected devices, a clever design feature that eliminates the need for a centralized controller.
Each WeMo Switch has a power button that replaces the switch on the physical wall socket. And WeMo lets you check to see if certain household appliances, say, the iron, have been switched off, which can help avoid trouble and stress–and eliminate the need to run home to check.
WeMo Switch Setup
WeMo is not yet officially available, and the two WeMo Switches Belkin sent me arrived without packaging, a manual or a quick start guide. Even so, WeMo setup was a breeze. Once powered on, the unconnected WeMo device creates a new wireless network with the name of “WeMo-XXX” (XXX is the device ID number). Next, you simply connect your iPhone or iPad to this network and launch the free WeMo app.
The WeMo app then automatically detects your primary Wi-Fi network and pulls in some of the required configuration data. The WeMo app will also ask you for your Wi-Fi password if your network is secured. WeMo then gathers any additional configuration information it needs and connects to your wireless network. And you can associate a photo with each WeMo device connected to your system for easy identification in the WeMo app.
My Experience with WeMo
I deployed both WeMo Switches and tested them by setting various rules using the WeMo app. The rules worked as expected, and the power states of the associated WeMo Switches immediately changed when I tapped on the power icons within the app. The WeMo Switch made an audible “click” sound each time I switched the power on or off, a useful feedback mechanism.
WeMo devices can also be accessed via a remote Internet connection and the WeMo app. Using WeMo remotely is exactly the same as using Wi-Fi, and you don’t need to modify your home router’s firewall settings or muck with cumbersome IP addresses.
However, you need to use a centralized server maintained by Belkin, and there may be some security implications in doing so. I don’t have many specifics on this topic, and therefore, I won’t speculate on the details. But if you’re worried, you don’t have to use WeMo remotely, and you can also disable remote access, though doing so would obviously reduce the usefulness of the WeMo system.
WeMo performance when connected to mobile Internet was slightly finicky in my limited experience. Toggling the WeMo Switches on and off took between 5-7 seconds on the first day I tested them, but response time improved to a swift 2-seconds on another day. Since the service is not officially “live,” I expect response time to further improve before the product is launched.
Belkin WeMo: Conclusion
Other than its ability to remotely turn appliances on and off, the key selling point of Belkin’s WeMo system is its ease of deployment. And you can expect additional related devices to be released in the future, including connected baby monitors, garage door openers and door locks.
One downside is that WeMo requires Wi-Fi coverage to work, which could mean you’ll have some problems reaching that power point at the corner of your garage or attic. As far as its physical appearance goes, I’d like to see the WeMo Switch get smaller and slimmer to better accommodate non-standard sockets or sockets in narrow spaces.
Overall, I am very impressed with WeMo’s easy setup and intuitive design. It is simple to deploy and works quite well–I’m already plotting innovative ways to deploy the system in my home. A WeMo Switch should cost about $50, according to reports, and it should be released in the United States in June, with releases in other countries and locales in the coming months.
The power button on the WeMo Switch and a “Restore” button that resets the device.