Tag Archives: IOT Mobile Visual Interfaces

Visual Interfaces for IOT

Hollyberry BlynkSo much happening right now – the new Raspberry Pi 3 once again sets the bar with improved performance, Bluetooth and WIFI as standard. With up to 10x the speed of the original Pi we can do even more serious work with these devices.

Please note before proceeding – apparently the Blynk team plan to charge for the use of this app – it is not clear if this means using their server, using a local server or both? And they claim that new widgets will be included in a monthly deal – but WHAT new widgets and in what timescales? – as the Blynk app moves from free to paid I think they will find people want more definition of what is included and when. A one-off fee is one thing – an on-going payment is altogether something else.  http://community.blynk.cc/t/blynk-will-introduce-paid-subscription-in-q1-2016/3177

The ESP8266s are looking (depending on which software you use) to be very reliable to – so that is both the central control and peripheral activity side of things more or less in place.

Where we are still falling down IMHO is the visual interface side – that is – remote control by phone. I’m interested only in Android but I’m sure the same applies to IOS.

At the turn of the year it was looking like a neck and neck race between a small number of systems, node-red-contrib-ui for those inclined to doing a spot of programming and Blynk for those who are more concerned with the visuals.  I’ve looked at several other packages but to be honest either the visuals were just pretty poor or the technology not too well thought out etc.

We’re not there yet.  To my mind the one with the most hope was, until recently node-red-contrib-ui but since January there has been little or no sign of the author and no further developments that I am aware of (though I did hear a rumour that it might become a permanent part of Node-Red – let’s hope this spurs major new development) – this is a great shame as there was a heavy conversation going on with big improvements almost there – and then it all stopped. This is not new – I was convinced at one point that NETIO would be the brave future but development on that seemed to stop some time ago despite being commercial.

That leaves us with Blynk and a few others. Blynk is almost there. It works with the concept of a central server which knows the states of various devices, accepts updates and relays that to the APP. I pushed hard on this to make sure that regardless of whether the App was on or off, the state would be stored and the App would reflect changes when brought back to life. This was considered an edge request by the designers but they implemented it anyway and between that, improvements to the local version of the (small Java) server (which can run on a Raspberry Pi) and some sterling volunteer third party work to bring websocket-based communication back to Node-Red, the App is looking like a clear leader – but not perfect yet.

Blynk[4]I recently contacted Blynk and was assured that at some point they will fix the current issue – that being – they expected people to use buttons for ON and OFF scenarios.  I’d not twigged to this issue until recently when I finally started putting together a set of Blynk controls for my various gadgets.

One of the items I use a lot in my Node-Red applications is my own BIGTIMER (node-red-contrib-bigtimer) and that can set, say a light, to come on and off at set times during the day – for example coming on at lighting up time and off at midnight.  But like all timers – one must have an override facility – and so it is with bigtimer – I can inject text “on”, “off” and “auto” into the input to manually override the timer or send it back to auto.

Well as you can imagine – that is simple to implement with 3 buttons – but having them say “ON” or “OFF” just does not apply – similarly for heating control you might have “up” and “down” buttons.

Blynk say they will not only implement variable text in the buttons but also icon graphics… well, can I put a request in now – if these are to be fixed icons – we need a full set of remote control icons – ie stop, pause, start, ff, rw etc.   For text the best option would be freeform…. or NOTHING – text in momentary buttons just doesn’t make sense to me. A change of colour when being pressed is good and they’ve implemented that.

It would be nice if they had a smaller button as well – and the RGB control is just WAY too big – but looking at the alternatives – Blynk are to my mind still ahead of most.

I’ve looked at several alternatives – but right now most just not cutting the mustard. Either too complicated to setup, too limiting, unreliable or just not finished – and that happens a lot. There is just one out there that might just blow Blynk out of the water and you’ll see my videos and this blog commenting in the future – the app is called Imperihome and thanks to a small number of us working together, there is now good support via Node-Red for this App which is available for both IOS and Android – on the surface it blows even Blynk out of the water. Time will tell.

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