Apple announced last June that it would soon open its Siri digital assistant to third-party device makers. Well, anyway. In typical Apple fashion, the company’s announcement included a caveat: To use Siri on a third-party device, you’ll also need to have a HomePod or HomePod mini smart speaker on your home network, because it’s the HomePod that will ultimately process your request. .
The voice-controlled Ecobee SmartThermostat was the only third-party device Apple demonstrated during its WWDC developer conference, and so far it is the only third-party device to achieve compatibility. Ecobee recently invited me to participate in their beta testing program to learn more about integration. Here are my first impressions.
Configuration is done through the Apple Home app. After updating all my devices to iOS 15, I was greeted with a banner on Apple Home inviting me to set up Siri on my Ecobee. It was a quick process, but actual use was a bit tricky at first. It took some troubleshooting for the smart thermostat to summon Siri, either by saying the wake word “Hey Siri” or when I press the mic button in thermostat settings. I finally turned the Ecobee off and on, that is, I ripped it off the wall, waited a bit and then put it back, and then Siri started responding as expected.
Using Siri on an Ecobee Smart Thermostat
The user interface experience is identical to what you would find using Ecobee’s high-end thermostat with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant; so there are no surprises if you ever have. When you summon Siri, a small banner slides down from the top of the thermostat screen to let you know that it is listening (even showing the current speaker volume).
However, the LED that normally glows blue when it says “Alexa” in front of the Ecobee, mimics the blue and pink glow that appears on top of a HomePod when it says “Hey Siri.” If you prefer, you can summon Siri by tapping the microphone icon on the Ecobee touchscreen and then tapping the “Press for Siri” message that appears at the bottom of the screen.
Once I had the thermostat set up, I spent a week using Siri as I normally would and noticing how it worked on the Ecobee. I didn’t see any difference between using Siri or Alexa on the thermostat to make target temperature adjustments and control my smart home lighting. It would take between 1.5 and 2 seconds between when I said a command and the lights change, which also refers to the time it generally takes to see the results when I speak directly to one of my HomePods.
However, ask Siri through the Ecobee to play music and your songs will stream to one of your HomePods. If you only have one HomePod and someone else is using it to listen to music, your command will abort your session. If you are wondering why you would want to listen to music on a thermostat in the first place, dear reader, you obviously have no children.
Conclusion: it works, but …
Based on my initial experience using Siri on a voice-controlled Ecobee SmartThermostat, I predict it will be pretty much the same as using Alexa on the device, or even using Siri on a HomePod. That being said, my HomePod mini was better able to respond to Siri’s wake-up word, even when closer to the thermostat than to the smart speaker. While that’s not surprising, considering how effective the HomePod’s far-field microphones are, it does suggest that the value of having a hall thermostat that can respond to Siri could be limited if you also have a HomePod in an adjacent room. However, I am not interested in experiencing Siri integrations in future third-party smart home products.