Alexa, Get ready For Shabbos!


Echo

Alexa, is it possible to write a blog on home technology without inevitably discussing the Amazon Echo?

When Amazon introduced its digital voice assistant, the Echo, affectionately known as Alexa, in June 2015, it was a game changer. It caught consumers and tech giants like Apple by surprise and upended the home technology industry. I was testing lighting and home automation devices at the time and was surprised to receive an invite to be an early beta tester for the Echo. I often received skeptical questions from my otherwise supportive wife: is it too difficult to press a button that you need to use voice control? But as the Alexa app log demonstrates, she is a convert! “Alexa, how many teaspoons in an ounce?” “Alexa, play my favorite station on Pandora.” “Alexa, set a timer for 30 minutes.” “Alexa, turn off all kitchen lights.” And my least favorite, “Alexa, what time does the mall close?” Wait, “logs” you ask? Yes, Alexa is listening and recording, always!

While recording voice logs in your home raises many privacy concerns, I have learned that in home automation, privacy is what you give up for convenience, much like other technology we have already grown accustomed to. To be fair, the logs are only sent back to Amazon when you preface your sentence with the wake-up word, Alexa. However, to hear the word Alexa, the Echo must always be listening. In certain models of the Echo, the device moves from audio logs to video logs, which can raise an eyebrow even further. I won’t go there, yet.

The always-listening feature does bring us to an important Shabbos question: Does one have to turn Alexa off for Shabbos if it is always actively listening and evaluating? I posed this question to Rabbi Binyamin Zimmerman of the Zomet Institute in Israel (zomet.org) and he responded that “Since Alexa is always listening by capturing all sound in its vicinity and analyzing it to determine if it contains the trigger word Alexa, all speech triggers a function within the device. Although on Shabbos one might not care for this function, as one will (at least try their best) to not say ‘Alexa,’ it is a function that they very much want during the week. Therefore, even Alexa’s normal functioning on Shabbos would raise serious concerns, even if her name is never stated.” In other words, the Zomet Institute position on the Echo is that it is not permissible to have the Echo on in your home on Shabbos.

I sought a second opinion from other Rabbi’s and they all agreed with the Zomet conclusion that keeping Alexa on in your home on Shabbos is a problem. I asked the question again when Amazon announced that the Echo will be listening for glass breaks and smoke alarms to see if that would make a difference and the answer was still the same.  From my own user experience, I have encountered practical reasons that you would always want to find a solution to turn the Echo off for Shabbos. I have had the device mishear the word Alaska as Alexa during the Shabbos meal. I have also had the device play random music without prompt. I have heard comparable stories from other users. What do you do on Rosh Hashanah when Alexa randomly starts playing music, as one user described? Pray (out loud) and ask for “Alexa to stop” and hope for a miracle?

I therefore recommend you always have an Alexa Shabbos plan. You can certainly unplug the device for Shabbos. Amazon is keenly aware of the privacy issue that their devices present and prominently offer on all versions of the Echo a mute button that will turn off the microphones and video if applicable. This would be effective in addressing Shabbos concerns. An important voice command feature that is noticeably absent from the Echo is the ability to ask Alexa to stop listening. Sure, you can physically push the mute button, but that is counter to the entire premise of the Echo. A routine that would allow you to say, “Alexa, get ready for Shabbos!” and would trigger a series of actions, including turning off the microphones in all Echo enabled devices, would be a welcome addition to the service for Shabbos and non-Shabbos observers alike. My technical recommendation for now is to turn the automation technology against itself and have the Echo device plugged into a smart switch or outlet that turns itself off for Shabbos (see previous articles at tribetechreview.com). This is what I have implemented, and it is effective. Upon turning the device on for Havdalah, the device wakes without any need for re-configuration. Perhaps when Amazon sees many devices going offline for Shabbos it will add this feature.

Honestly, I think this problem will become even more difficult to address in the future as more traditional appliances and gadgets around your home will come embedded with Alexa. Amazon makes it clear that this is their strategy and offers a free integration tool kit to make it easy for manufacturers to implement. They recently introduced their Alexa enabled Microwave which if anything is a message to electronics manufacturers to integrate Alexa in everything or else they will.  Google is right behind Amazon as their search engine empire is at risk as searches move from computers and phones to voice-based devices (and the Google home device will have the same Shabbos issues). Refrigerators, thermostats, speakers, microwaves, washers and dryers will likely all have voice recognition embedded. Many already do. The Consumer Electronics Show this past year in Las Vegas was all about Amazon and Google voice integration. Hopefully, voice recognition will improve to the point that unprompted actions will no longer be an issue, but having listening devices all over your home might be inevitable, and muting each of them every week will not be easy.

The good news is that the Echo is always learning new skills and commands. Features are updated on a weekly basis. My first-generation device has all the software updates of the latest generation. A device that can be purchased for as little as $29 and gets better each week is very compelling. I look forward to the week when I am able to share a Shabbos mode workaround and Alexa will observe a day of needed rest. We are all living in a Star Trek world and we will need to adapt if we want to continue to live on the ship while remaining in Avraham’s tent. I will likely spend a few articles discussing Alexa, but until next time, live long and prosper. Shabbat Shalom!

Winter Is Coming…Control Your Fireplace on Shabbat


When I replaced our wood-burning fireplace with a gas fireplace, my wife was disappointed. For starters, she missed the distinct smell of real wood burning. I reminded her of how the smell remained in her clothes long after the fire was extinguished. She countered that she missed the soothing crackle of the embers that can’t be replicated in a gas fireplace. I rebutted by pointing out the mess created by the embers with each use. Finally, she asked me how we would use the gas fireplace on Friday night, and I was speechless…

There is nothing quite like the ambiance of a fireplace on a chilly winter night. The flickering flames and warm glow can captivate your attention for hours. Add the peacefulness that Shabbat brings after a tiring work-week, and sitting in front of your fireplace can only be described as a slice of heaven. With our old wood-burning fireplace, we would stack the wood up high before Shabbat. While I went to shul, my wife and kids read under warm blankets in front of the fire. When I returned, the fire would still be burning strong. Gathering everyone to come to the table for Kiddush would be a challenge. After the Shabbat meal, we all gravitated back to the couch in front of the fading flames. When we were ready to go to sleep, the embers would be calm enough to close the flue.

So why was I speechless? Isn’t there an obvious way to use home automation to turn on and off the fireplace on Shabbat? After all, it is just a simple switch that activates the fireplace and we have many smart switches in the house. The answer is certainly not obvious, at least not to me…initially. You see, gas fireplaces work on a low voltage wire (12 volts) and most, if not all, home automation switches require 120 volts. I am not an electrical engineer, but likely this higher voltage is needed to power the signals (WiFi, Z-Wave, etc.). Additionally, in many cases, smart switches require a neutral wire that is not found in the typical gas fireplace.

This past weekend, I tested the Switchmate toggle switch ($39.99). What is unique about the switch is that it does not connect to your wiring. It is simply placed over your existing switch and attaches magnetically. There are two versions of the switch to accommodate the two most common switches, rockers and toggles. Either one will affix itself to your switch plate, even if the plate is plastic, in which case it attaches itself to the metal screws.

Switchmate

The Switchmate is by far the easiest smart switch to install as there is no wiring at all. I took the toggle switch out of the box and placed the batteries (included) into the device. I walked over to the fireplace switch and placed it over the switch and, thanks to the magnet, it just snapped together instantly. When you press the front of the switch, the device is supposed to flip the fireplace switch from off to on and vice versa. In my case, the device needed an extension, which I quickly learned is included in the box. Once the push button was working, it was time to install the free app. The switch paired with my phone easily via Bluetooth. The app was simple to use, and it was easy to schedule a timer for sundown Friday night and then another for Shabbat day. The app is limited to two schedules but that should suffice for most cases.

However, the simplicity of the installation comes at a cost. Since the switch requires batteries you will always need to be wary of power. The app provides a readout of the battery percentage remaining, and given that I use smart locks, changing batteries is not new to me. The website claims that batteries will last 10-12 months, which is fortunately longer than fireplace season. If they last even nearly that long, the switch will more than meet my needs.

Another downside is that Switchmate switches are not compatible with Hubs or the Amazon Echo, which I found a little disappointing (how can it be that after six articles, I still have not written about the Echo?). I was told by their excellent customer service department that these features are being explored, but as of now the battery life would be drastically reduced if the device were to need to connect to hubs and other devices and signals. On the positive side, the product is completely independent, so you can begin automating your home for just $40 without buying anything else.

Unlike smart light switches, where there is little downside to leaving the schedule running should you not be home, you may want to be a little more careful with a fireplace. While some may say it is safe to have a gas fireplace on continuously, if you are not going to be home for the weekend you may want to remove the Switchmate from the wall and just replace it when you return. Additionally, if you have a TV mounted above your fireplace as I do, you may want to limit the time and the heat from the fireplace. In my experience, two to three hours does not seem to pose a problem.

Experiencing Shabbat again with the fireplace on was certainly a game changer and honestly the best $40 I have spent on home automation. If you own a gas fireplace I highly recommend this simple device. While I may not have won my wife over from the wood-burning world just yet, she is slowly warming up to the idea. Stay warm and Shabbat shalom!

Say X To The iPhone For Chanukah


New iPhones are out for the holiday season and there are several to choose from. If you want to buy your child the iPhone XR for the eighth day of Chanukah, it can cost you over $800. If you want your child to be the envy of the entire schoolyard, you’ll spend up to $1,449 for the privilege of owning an iPhone XS. I will not be reviewing these iPhones as I am content with a smartphone that can be purchased for about $100. You read that correctly: your technology reviewer, who craves all the latest technological gadgets, is satisfied with a budget smartphone—and, I stipulate, so will your children.

I’m not going to engage in the debate about whether a smartphone is appropriate for your middle-school child. You can read about all the pros and cons elsewhere. However, once you make the decision to buy your child a smartphone, I implore you to look at alternatives to the increasingly and audaciously expensive iPhones.

In the past, I’ve made the mistake of buying expensive phones for my children. Each one had an early end of life. Cracked screens, lost phones, stolen phones; I have even had an Apple ID hacked where I watched helplessly as the expensive phone became worthless. There are many god reasons to buy a premium phone for yourself but for your middle school child, I would suggest you think twice.

For the last more that a year and a half I have owned a Blu R1 HD Android-powered phone. Blu R1

While at this time I am due for a new phone, the budget Blu phone had served me well and likely I would feel the same need for an upgrade if I bought the latest iPhone on the market almost two years ago. My phone has a 5” screen, which is actually bigger than the iPhone 8. Perhaps I don’t have a keen eye for this, but the resolution looks as good to me as my old iPhone. The phone delivers 4G LTE speeds through the carrier of my choice. Navigating the apps is also identical to what I have experienced on iPhones. The Blu has the full Android Play app store, which is the Android parallel to Apple’s app store. You can download almost every app that an adult or child would need: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Candy Crush or Sling Kong; you name the app and it is just as functional on the Blu phone as on the latest iPhone. I have all my home automation apps running on the Blu phone. Of course, the phone also has Bluetooth, front and rear cameras with video, and a speaker phone.

To be fair, several features the iPhone flaunts are not available on the Blu. For starters, you will have to give up facial and fingerprint recognition. 3D touch and other small bells and whistles may be absent as well. The camera on the Blu is certainly not as robust as the iPhone’s—especially in low light. However, for the selfies and silly photos that dominate my kids’ social media posts, the camera on the Blu would suit just as well. For me personally, when I want quality photos, I carry a DSLR. But for basic photos for social media or depositing checks via a banking mobile App, the Blu works just fine.

On the other hand, my Blu phone has several features that you will not find on any iPhone. For one, it has expandable memory storage; I can install a microSD as needed. My wife on the other hand opted for an iPhone but did not pay for the extra memory and now struggles to keep her phone relevant. She can’t keep photos or too many apps and must delete two items for every additional item she wants to download. It is hard to believe that for $1,000 or more you don’t have the feature of a budget phone. The Blu also comes with dual SIM cards, which will come in handy for that trip to Israel; a feature that is strangely absent from the iPhone. Finally, the battery on the Blu phone seems to last longer than my old iPhone. These are big advantages for the underdog.

It is easy to fall for the marketing and fanfare that goes along with the release of each new iPhone. I don’t mean to be unappreciative of the innovation the first iPhone brought forth to the world. However, after 10 + years, the competition has closed the gap and the utility difference has certainly converged. Honestly, since I made the switch, I feel free from the price premium shackles of Apple. It certainly takes a degree of boldness to make the switch, and that is what Blu stands for: Bold Like Us. Join us and have a Happy Chanukah.

Part 2 -Are Smart Locks Shabbat Compatible?


Last time, we reviewed the Schlage Connect Smart Lock and identified some potential issues with its use on Shabbat. This week we will review the August Smart Lock and see if it presents any favorable functionality for the shomer Shabbat smart home.

The August Smart Lock is designed to work with your phone via Bluetooth connectivity. From the August app you can open and close the lock with a tap of your phone. The app uses geofencing technology to know when you have entered or exited the geographic area of your home and can automatically open and close the lock. This feature allows you to walk in and out of the house without using a key or even entering a passcode. It does assume that you will always have your Bluetooth-enabled phone with you. The lock retails for $149 August Lock, but if you will want to control the lock from anywhere outside Bluetooth range, you will need to also purchase the August Connect for about an additional $70 August-Connect. The August Connect will add a Wi-Fi bridge to your connectivity so that you can control the lock from anywhere. You simply plug the bridge into a wall socket within Bluetooth range of the lock and it will connect the lock to your home Wi-Fi. This bridge will be the key—pun intended—to a possible Shabbat solution. It gets a little involved, so stay with me.

What is unique about the August Smart Lock is its implementation. The August lock is not an independent lock. It must be paired physically with a traditional key/lock on the outside of the door. Basically, you keep your existing lock on the outside of the house and add the August lock just to the inside. This means that there is no outside electronic keypad associated with the August Smart Lock. August does offer a standalone keypad as an add-on, but it is an option and not the typical installation. This design makes it look promising from a Shabbat perspective.

A new feature that August recently released is DoorSensetm. DoorSense allows the lock and app to know not only if the lock is locked but if the door is closed as well. August is the first smart lock to address the problem of getting a locked signal when the door is not actually closed. DoorSense is only available on the Pro Lock and the oblong version of the lock (pictured above). The feature is identical to a traditional house alarm door sensor that will indicate when the door is opened or closed. The DoorSense functionality does not present a new problem for Shabbat, just more of the same.

One of the downsides to the traditional smart lock with an outside keypad (like the Schlage we reviewed last week) is that even if you remove the battery for Shabbat, the only way to lock the door after leaving is with a key. A key is only a viable solution, of course, for those living in an area with an eruv. Additionally, if there are multiple family members who need access, everyone would need to carry a key. The August lock provides an opportunity to resolve these issues.

Since the August lock is only installed on the inside of the home, you can install any lock on the outside. The way to take advantage of this design is to pair it physically with a traditional push-button mechanical lock. Yes, in this tech column, I am recommending the same lock your grandparents may have used Mechanical Lock.jpg. This unique marriage of old-world and new-world technology has the potential of being a true match made in heaven. The setup addresses the shortcomings of the Schlage lock in that you can lock the door upon exiting without a key, and then return home to open the door with the outdoor mechanical lock.

This setup would be perfect if only the August Smart Lock did not send a log signal with every lock and unlock, as presumably every smart lock does. As we discussed with the Schlage, a log will be triggered even if you open or close the lock with the mechanical password on the outside of the home. While removing the battery for Shabbat remains a viable option, removing the battery on the August lock is a little more involved than severing the connection on the Schlage. If only there was a way to bypass the log…

I would like to propose just that…we bypass the log. Since you will not be using your phone and its Bluetooth connectivity on Shabbat, your lock only connects to the world via the Connect Wi-Fi bridge mentioned above. While this bridge is important for use during the week, for Shabbat observance it is the source of the problem by sending the log. If you place the bridge on a smart switch and schedule the bridge to be off on Shabbat, you can avoid the log. In this way it may be similar to the bypass used for traditional alarmed doors and windows.

Now is an appropriate time to remind readers that I am not a halachic authority. I am not stipulating that this solution is necessary, or for those who choose to implement it, that it in fact solves all Shabbat issues. I hope I have helped you become a little more knowledgeable and have provided a creative solution to those concerned with some of the potential issues raised. If you have comments or suggestions, please feel free to be in touch. Shabbat Shalom.

Are Smart Locks Shabbat Compatible?


This week, Amazon introduced “Amazon Key,” a service that will deliver packages directly into your home. The days of worrying about packages left at your front door will soon be a memory. In fact, with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, I am now certain we will have Amazon delivering food into our refrigerators in the not-too-distant future. All this will only be possible if you have a smart lock for the Amazon delivery service to use to open your door and enter your home. The question we want to answer is: are smart locks compatible with Shabbat observance?

I have been testing two popular yet very different smart locks. The first is the Schlage Connect, which retails for about $180. It offers a mechanical deadbolt on the inside of the door; a simple turn of the lever locks and unlocks the door. On the outside is an electronic keypad that illuminates when you press the first button. You can create four-, six- or eight-digit numeric password combinations. The lock also supports multiple codes. Create a code for the family, another for the housekeeper and a third for a trusted contractor. The lock can notify you by phone alert or email when specific codes are used. Adding and removing passcodes are simple and can be done either from the lock itself or from the remote Wink app, which I personally prefer.

Schlage ConnectThere is an auto-lock feature that is extremely useful. Each time the lock is opened, whether from the inside mechanical side or the outside electronic side, the lock will automatically close 30 seconds later. This is great for kids (and adults) who enter or exit without remembering to lock the door. It also provides significant peace of mind knowing that the door is always locked. Finally, it alleviates the dreaded need to get out of bed to make sure all the doors are locked. For me, this is a priceless feature. However, when exiting and re-entering the house for slightly longer than 30 seconds—say, to take out the garbage—you may find yourself locked out. While I will often rush and try to beat the clock or leave the door open a crack, the worst-case scenario is that you must re-enter a passcode. You can temporarily turn off the auto-lock feature by entering the passcode and then quickly closing and re-opening the lock. This will leave the lock opened and waiting indefinitely for you to return from taking out the garbage. As soon as you return and manually close the lock from the inside, the auto-lock feature will automatically re-engage for the next time it is opened. While the lock comes with traditional keys, part of the allure of a smart lock is not having to carry any house keys.

Smart locks have an obvious shortcoming. Since most residential doors do not have a power source, smart locks need batteries. I use rechargeable batteries and keep a spare set handy so they can easily be swapped. While some may worry about being locked out of their home if the battery dies, it would take negligence on the user’s part for this scenario to unfold (unless there is a defect). The locks are also “smart” enough to notify you by email or phone when your batteries are low, providing ample time to replace them before completely losing power.

The attentive reader may have noticed several potential issues with Shabbat. Clearly, using the illuminating touchpad would be an issue on Shabbat. However, even if opening the lock from the mechanical lever on the inside, you may have an issue with Shabbat. The auto-lock feature triggers the 30-second timer mentioned above. Once you leave the house, the door will electronically lock 30 seconds later. Even if you are leaving only briefly and return home before the auto-lock is activated, triggering the timer itself may be an issue. While you can certainly turn off the auto-lock feature completely (not the temporary method listed earlier) every Friday and then back on after Shabbat, this is a major inconvenience. A Shabbat-mode feature would certainly be a game changer for the shomer Shabbat consumer.

Finally, even if you choose not to use the auto-lock feature, there may be an over-arching Shabbat issue. Every lock and unlock event, even if using the mechanical lever, is logged. Through the Wink app, you can see a detailed log that the lock sends every time it is opened or closed. Apparently, even with the auto-lock feature completely disabled, every time you open or close the lock you are sending a signal. This log may not be useful or even noticeable in most cases. There is no obvious light and everything about the activity of turning a mechanical lock seems permissible…except for the log. Perhaps for security there may be room for leniency, or perhaps it may be like passing a motion detector where there is no benefit to you. Please ask your rabbi. If this is a concern, the best technical solution I can provide is to take advantage of the lock’s shortcoming and sever the battery connection before Shabbat. On the Schlage lock this is easily accomplished without having to actually remove the batteries.

Wink Log

Even if you choose not to have this lock on a door you frequent on Shabbat, you can still find it useful in other applications. I have it on my entrance from the garage to the house since I don’t go to the garage on Shabbat. You may have other doors that are used primarily not on Shabbat, or you may want to designate a specific door as the Shabbat door and use this lock on other doors. Finally, you could add this as a second lock to a door for the added convenience and use a traditional lock on Shabbat and only use the smart lock during the rest of the week.

What about the other smart lock I mentioned at the beginning? Does it solve all these problems? I will keep that under lock and key until next time…

Lighting Automation for Shabbos and Yom Tov


The landscape of home automation platforms controlling lights and other home devices has shifted from high-end professionally installed systems to consumer-driven do-it-yourself (DIY) systems. These new DIY smart home devices achieve and often exceed the functionality of their counterparts at a fraction of the price. They are also easy to implement on both a small and large scale. Unlike the professionally installed systems, you don’t have to commit thousands of dollars implementing a whole home system. You can simply begin with a single switch and look to expand as you see fit.

The first question one needs to ask is: Which HUB and corresponding app do you want to use as the nucleus or backbone of your smart home? Your HUB will act as a communication bridge between your WiFi network and all your connected devices. While you may be able to avoid a hub in some cases, as you connect more devices, the HUB becomes critical in integrating them into a single platform.  Additionally, for Shabbos implementation a HUB is currently recommended.  For this article, we will review the Wink Hub 2 ($99.00 at Wink.com). I will expand on the Shabbos implementation first and then go back and fill in some of the other product choices and rationales.Wink Hub 2-Lifestyle-7

The free Wink app that is available for mobile devices allows you to easily create detailed schedules. You can create a “Shabbos Night On” schedule that turns on the desired lights for Friday night and then create another “Shabbos Night Off” schedule to close them when you expect your meal to end, etc. The scheduler always knows what time Shabbos is, even after Daylight Savings Time adjustments, since it is based on sunset and the app knows your location. You simply need to set it once and it is calibrated forever.

It would be ideal for the app to have a “Yom Tov” option where it simply knows the days of the chagim. This is the first area the Wink HUB falls short of addressing the needs of the shomer Shabbos consumer. For now, the pretty simple workaround is to go into the app the week of Yom Tov and schedule your “Shabbos Night” schedule for the specific nights of Yom Tov as well. For example, this year Succos fell out on out on Monday and Tuesday in the diaspora. Instead of setting the schedule for just Friday night, update the scheduler to take effect Sunday, Monday and Friday. The key is to remember to undo the days of Yom Tov after the last days of the Chag. While I would love to see a more automated Yom Tov option, this deficiency should not deter anyone from considering this solution.  I will review the Samsung SmartThings App a a later time.  While Smartthings potentially has more Yom Tov options, the App itself is more complicated which is one of the reasons I choose Wink.

Of course, outside of Shabbos, these schedules are also used to turn off all the house lights in the evening and turn on the outside lights at dusk. My children’s bedroom lights are scheduled to go off after they leave to school even if they forget to turn them off (kids, you know who you are). One can also “group” lights into rooms, floors, outdoor or other categories so you can simply turn on or off a whole group in a single command.

There are also two services new to the Wink application. HomesitterTM is a service that will make it look like you are home even when you are away by opening and closing lights in a natural (not random) pattern. If you are away for a Shabbos, this may be viewed as a halachic problem. MoonLightTM is another service that is designed to turn lights on and off between dusk and dawn, which is just a simpler version of the scheduler. There are also some great integrations with smart locks that we will save for another time.

The HUB, however, is just the controller, and you still need to purchase the individual switches. Wink provides an ever-growing list of compatible products that you can control on its platform. For lights, unless your wiring is old or you are just looking to for a single bulb on a lamp, I would recommend smart switches over individual smart bulbs, since bulbs eventually need replacements. Having a single switch cover multiple bulbs is often more cost-effective and practical. I use the Leviton Decora ZWave + Smart In-Wall Switch or Smart Dimmer. The Zwave is so that you are not reliant on WiFi for schedules and the dimmer is for applications where you want to control not only the on/off state but also the brightness of the light. You will need to make sure your bulbs are dim-able as fluorescent applications, and many LED bulbs are incompatible with dimmers. For three- and four-way switch applications, for instances where more than one switch controls the same light (such as at the top and bottom of steps), a “compatible” switch will be necessary. These applications often require an experienced electrician to install them correctly. These switches will, of course, look and act as normal switches and turn on and off your light with a touch. I particularly like these Leviton switches for not having an on/off physical state, so even three-way switches never seem like they are installed backward with the switch rocker in the up position while the light is in fact off. For users of electric hot plates, hot water percolators or pressure cookers, a Leviton smart plug can easily be inserted into the outlet and programmed to go off at the desired time, adding an extra layer of safety.  I will also recommend this later for Amazon Echo applications.

Liviton Dimmer

Before you can add schedules for your switches you will need to “pair” the switches with your hub. In my experience, this was not always as easy as it should be. The good news is that Wink provides an excellent customer service experience with the availability of a live and knowledgeable customer support line.

All in all, I would give the Wink high marks as the app is simple, flexible and constantly improving. The myriad of products that it pairs with is ever-expanding and I look forward to reviewing several in upcoming articles. If Wink were to make a little more effort toward shomer Shabbos needs, I would say they are the preferred system. For now, I simply say they are a strong choice in a competitive landscape. However, once you implement a Shabbos smart home, you may wonder how you ever lived without it.

Intro – Home Automation for The Shomer Shabbos Consumer


The number of ho­me automation products that offer to control our homes is ever expanding. From bulbs to switches, thermostats to appliances and locks to irrigation systems, the myriad products available continues to explode. In this new monthly article, I will review these products, their functionality and services through the unique lens of a shomer Shabbos consumer, and explore the intersection of tradition and cutting-edge home technology. Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT) for the observant home.

The appliance market was early to recognize the need for specialized technology and functionality for the Shabbos observant home. Shabbat-mode refrigerators/freezers, ovens and warming drawers have all become commonplace in the appliance market. Star-K has created a certification process where they approve specific models that adhere to their standards and provide their trademarked Star-K certification that one would previously only associate with kosher food products. Recently, my family opted for a warming drawer that had a Star-K certification rather than a significantly less expensive model that had a Shabbat mode but was not certified. The non-Jewish but knowledgeable sales person described the uncertified model to us as “problematic” in the traditional halachic sense. Manufacturers have recognized the buying power of the observant home and have invested in the technologies that accommodate Jewish traditions. Consumers, in turn, have rewarded these manufacturers by purchasing these often higher-priced items. The objective of this series is to create a forum for observant consumers of these new automation products as well as to raise the awareness of the manufacturers to both the needs and the purchasing power of the Shabbos-observant consumer.

One can argue that shomer Shabbos families were the early pioneers of home automation. Many of us grew up with timers decades ago. Having timers for light switches or in-wall air conditioners was common for most of us. For me, part of the Erev Shabbos to-do list always involved programming these switches. One of the challenges faced was re-setting the timer each week as Shabbos times changed. On the first Shabbos after daylight saving time it was rare for our timers to be in sync and we often ate in the dark for at least an extra hour. Each of these switches was also completely independent so changes needed to be made individually for each switch. This was a time-consuming task with a less-than-easy interface. Because of these challenges, many homes limited the number of timers they would use. Instead of having a timer in a bathroom one might opt for a night light, etc.

Newly available home automation technology addresses many of these limitations and offers new and improved functionality at ever-improving price points. The shomer Shabbos market is therefore ripe for home automation. At the same time, many manufacturers are building functionalities that are not easily compatible with observance. Work-arounds or modifications will need to be implemented to make them suitable for the observant home. We will explore these implementations and workarounds each month. I look forward to my first review of a home lighting automation implementation for Shabbos and Yom Tov. Please feel free to submit feedback and questions to TribeTechReview@gmail.com and follow TribeTechReview on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.