Ye Ha! NoMo WEMO!!

About 18 months ago I succumb to my impulsive side and purchased a Belkin WEMO LED Light Starter Kit. That kit included the WEMO interface and two of their Zigbee remote controlled light bulbs. Since I had “grand plans” I also ordered another six WEMO bulbs.

I must admit that I had my doubts about Belkin‘s WEMO offerings, but since the starter kit was just $25 at the time, I thought it worth a try. With just $120 invested in WEMO I sought to revisit remote controlled lights for my office, and perhaps elsewhere in the house.

Jumping ahead in time….I’m very pleased to report that I recently sold that collection of WEMO products to a neighbor, recouping about a quarter of my original investment!

Seriously, that WEMO lighting was some of the most infuriating tech to cross my path in recent years. I cannot believe that a big company would offer such a cheesy product.

Zigbee light bulbs are themselves simple things. I made do with the WEMO bulbs a long while by simply treating them as normal, non-remote controllable bulbs. In point of fact, they didn’t cost that much more than early LED bulb. At least that was my rationalization at the time. I did not know what they would cost in frustration.

The LED bulbs are accessed via a smartphone app. A small gateway device bridges the WiFi network to the Zigbee realm.

In truth, most of my frustration stems from the companies control scheme, which was at best build upon some really stupid design decisions. For example, the gateway would only talk to one instance of the app! I could not have it on my phone and tablet, or let my wife have it on her phone.

This fact basically ensured that my installation was going to constrained to my home office, where the Mrs. would not need to have control.

When I took this concern to the company they were incredulous. They didn’t understand how it would ever be possible for more than one instance of the app to used. How would they stay in sync? Which one would be in command?

They pointed me to IFTTT as way to allow multiple points of control. That might be true, but it’s a cop out. IFTTT has it’s own issues. Besides, why should a simple command to turn a light off, locally issued and executed, be completely dependent upon a cloud service?

Further, the app was unreliable about connecting to the gateway. It only worked reliably when my phone was connected to the local WiFi. It rarely worked if the phone was using its LTE radio, although Belkin suggests that it should work both ways.

Yonomi

In the end it was Yonomi that made the WEMO installation half-way tolerable. Yonomi acts as an an umbrella automation scheme. It overcomes the problem of a single point of control by abstracting the WEMO setup from the end-user.

Thanks to Stacey Higginbotham of The IoT Podcast for that suggestion. Yonomi appeared in #VUC681.

Yonomi is not without it’s own problems. It’s a mobile app, but beholden to the types of connectivity allowed by the downstream systems.

It happens that to control WEMO lights the Yonomi app much be on the same subnet as the gateway device. That means being on our local WiFi. So Yonomi recipes that control WEMO could run when my phone was at home, but not when I was away.

The Last Straw

One day the WEMO gateway lost it’s mind. This sent me down a rabbit hole process of manually resetting it and all the light bulbs. That process is like programming an IMSAI 8080 computer using just the front panel rocker switches.

Resetting the gateway was simple enough, but forced a complete recreation of the installation. Resetting each light bulb it involves turning the light on/off in specific sequence, with specific timing. It’s a fiddly, tedious process.

After doing this for all eight bulbs I determined that I had wasted enough time on WEMO. While the cost of entry was modest, the cost in terms of my time and frustration was huge.

The Alternative

In October we made excellent use of the Philips Hue remote controlled, color changing lights. These are the perfect compliment to our annual Halloween display. We used them along with the excellent Hue Halloween app, which brilliantly handles sound effects and color sequencing.

Further, the Hue app is vastly superior to the WEMO app. It suffers none of the faults of the WEMO rubbish. It’s useful on multiple devices at the same time, and dovetails perfectly with our Amazon Echo without using IFTTT as a go-between.

Given the initial experience with Hue, it was a no-brainer to extend our Hue installation with a number of the less costly white bulbs.

Thus freeing the WEMO hardware to be sold to someone willing to tinker with it. About the same time as I set it free I noticed that Belkin had discontinued the WEMO LED Starter kit. At least Amazon shows it as discontinued, even if the Belkin web site offers them at a discount.

Good riddance. We’re done with Belkin’s WEMO.