I recently started to switch over to smart lighting in my house, and overall I really like the integration with Alexa. After all, being able to control your lights using voice commands to your Echo is much more convenient than pulling out your phone and launching the Hue app.
However I have had some integration problems along the way, and there’s some features which are available in the Hue app but not in Alexa… or just some things that don’t work well in Alexa. Hence I wanted to cover these in this article, and explain how to fix/work around some of these problems (if possible).
Read on for the text version covering my 5 annoyances with Hue-Alexa integration, or feel free to check out my YouTube video instead:
Issue 1: Bulb/room naming confusion
When you’re first setting things up in the Hue app, it’s hard to know what to name each bulb and room. After all, if you’re just starting out with smart lighting, you’ll probably just have one bulb per room. Hence it’s easy to do what I did and call your room and the bulb inside it the same name, e.g. “Hallway”:
However this causes an issue when you import your Hue bulbs into Alexa, since it doesn’t see any difference between the room and the light – resulting in lots of duplicates:
The issue here, other than the Alexa app having lots of duplicates, is that when you say “Alexa, turn on my bedroom light” to your Echo device, your Alexa will reply with “A few things share the name ‘my bedroom light’; which one did you want?“
Annoyingly if you then just say “my bedroom light“, Alexa will turn on your bedroom light without further complaints!
Fixing this issue
Unfortunately the solution is to rename either your room or the lights in the Hue app, so that they are no longer the same. I did this by renaming my lights, and giving them silly names that I won’t say to Alexa:
Then I had to delete each light and scene from the Alexa app. This can take ages to do if you have various lights, especially due to how many scenes get imported (see issue 5 for more on this!). But if you don’t have many other smart devices setup in your Alexa app, go to http://alexa.amazon.com/ and clicking ‘Smart Home’ then ‘Devices’ and scroll down to the ‘Forget All’ button:
Warning: clicking this will clear out any other smart devices you have added, so only do this if you’ve only imported Hue bulbs so far – or you are happy to re-add all your other devices!
Anywhoo, once Alexa is cleared out and the rooms/light names don’t have any duplicates within the Hue app, you can discover new devices again in the Alexa app and this time there won’t be duplicates:
This means that when you say “Alexa, turn on bedroom light”, it will work without issue.
Unless, of course, issue 2 affects you..!
Issue 2: Alexa thinks there’s light bulb duplicates
I’ve worked out that when I say “Alexa, please turn on my bedroom light“, Alexa will sometimes do this – but other times, she will say “A few things share the name ‘my bedroom light’; which one did you want?” – grr!
However when I say “Alexa, bedroom light on“, she always carries out this action without any issue.
This is a bit odd, and many people online have spoken about this problem as well. It’s possibly down to a software bug, or simply Alexa mishearing my request.
If this issue is happening to you, the first thing to do is make sure that you have no rooms and/or bulbs with similar sounding names – see issue 1’s solution for how to do this.
Assuming everything is fine on that front, however, the next thing to do is speak as clearly as possible when issuing light bulb requests to Alexa. If you think there’s a chance that she’s mishearing you, launch the Alexa app and click the menu in the top left. Go to “Settings”, and then “Alexa Privacy”, before finally clicking “Review Voice History”. You will see something like this:
If you see that she’s clearly misheard you – such as in the above where we asked to play ‘Rose between two thorns’ but she heard it as ‘Rose between a thongs’ (also a great song!).
Yesterday we said “Alexa, goodnight” to trigger our goodnight routine that includes turning off various light bulbs, and she heard it as “Alexa, go home”. At the time we were baffled by her response (she said something like ‘I can’t currently support that request’!?), but reviewing the activity logs back, I understand why she got confused.
Finally, if Alexa is hearing you correctly but still asking you about duplicates, there’s a chance that this is a genuine glitch in the Alexa AI. I have found that saying “my [room]” causes Alexa to give me the duplicate error more than if I just say “[room]”.
So try and find a particular phrase that works for each room/bulb, and keep using that to control your bulbs. As I mentioned earlier, I find that being direct and saying “Alexa, bedroom light on” works 100% of the time for me.
Issue 3: Hue Routines can’t be triggered in Alexa
The Hue app allows you to create routines based on time, sunset/sunrise and also gentle wake-up alarms whereby your bedroom light slowly becomes brighter to wake you up in a way that should make you feel refreshed (unless you’re like me and get 6.5 – 7 hours of sleep a night and drink too much coffee!):
You can also create routines based on time and sunset/sunrise in Alexa, but some of the other Hue routines – such as the wake-up alarm – is not as easy to replicate in the Alexa app.
As a result, you’d hope that you can trigger and control Hue routines via the Alexa app – so that you have master Alexa routines, and they can trigger the ‘sub’ Hue routines. Unfortunately this isn’t possible:
Therefore if you have a particularly interesting Hue routine, you can’t trigger this from some other device’s action like your Ring doorbell being pressed.
The main solution is to handle as much smart light automation as possible within the Alexa app.
In other words, turn lights on/off (or change their brightness/color, of course) within Alexa – especially since Alexa supports a range of routine triggers including time based and sunrise/sunset based.
If you really can’t do something you want via the Alexa app, add this as a ‘one off’ routine within the Hue app. The sunrise/sunset alarms are a good example of this – you can’t progressively make the brightness lower in the Alexa app, so this should be done in the Hue app instead. Of course, this does mean that you can’t then trigger this Hue routine with your voice.
One half-solution, though, is that any Hue Lab Formulas that you add will be detected within the Alexa app as a ‘Scene’. You can then select “Control scene” within the Alexa routine, allowing you to trigger Hue Lab Formulas (such as auto-changing color) from routines. This is a nice approach to take, and I’ll publish a walkthrough for this approach in due course.
Issue 4: no Alexa ‘color wheel’, so less color choice
One of the big selling points of smart bulbs is the ability to change the color: Hue Color bulbs have 16 million colors to choose from, and their White Ambiance bulbs have 50,000 shades of yellow, white and blue to choose from.
This is done by using a color wheel – also called a color picker – in the Hue app:
This works really well, both for white ambiance bulbs (as pictured above) and Hue color bulbs too. However in the Alexa app, you get a lot less choice. You can either choose between five shades of white:
Or choose from a preset list of 123 colors (with the Hue Color bulbs).
In other words, White Ambiance bulbs – with 50,000 shades – only gives 5 choices within Alexa, and Color bulbs – with 16,000,000 shades – only gives 123 choices within Alexa.
This is a substantial dropping off of choice when switching to Alexa.
The Hue skill (within Alexa) is maintained by Philips Hue, so perhaps Hue will push out an update and give more color options in due course. To be honest though, I doubt this will be the case.
After all, the Hue team will prefer that people use the Hue app – they want to provide some features via Alexa, but not all of them otherwise people won’t use the Hue app (I say that as a software developer who’s worked on many multi-team projects in the past!).
The only other solution is to use scenes within Alexa, since scenes can be set to any of the Hue colors (within the Hue app), and then imported in to Alexa. This does, thankfully, work quite well, but it also brings me onto issue 5.
Issue 5: Alexa has no scenes filter
Hue offers a ‘scenes’ feature, which is where your bulbs can be set to a particular color and brightness setting to simulate a specific event:
This can be as simple as dimming a bulb, or setting it to ‘Tropical twilight’ which sets the color/brightness so the bulb emits a nice, chilled out effect.
The scenes in the Hue app are organized per room/bulb, meaning that even with a lot of scenes, it’s easy enough to manage them.
Unfortunately in the Alexa app, it’s one big list of “Scene – Room/Bulb” meaning that it comes out like this:
At least they are sorted alphabetically in this list (via the routines page), but they aren’t grouped by bulb meaning that you have “Arctic aurora” for “Landing” right at the top, then “Tropical twilight” for “Landing” somewhere towards the bottom.
This makes it hard to manage with just 5 bulbs, and it’d be essentially impossible to manage with 50 bulbs! Adding a simple search/filter would be a nice idea.
Unfortunately there’s no solution right now. We just have to hope that Alexa’s “Hue” skill does add this capability sometime soon.
It’s a pity that being able to search/filter isn’t an option, because scenes would have been a nice solution to issue 4 (the lack of color choice), but in this case neither the color choice nor scenes is great within Alexa.