Smart Speaker

From what we eat, to how we dress and the places we call home, innovation dictates that the way we live our lives ever-evolving idea.

Development is moving at such a rate that we now can have tasks performed by technology through simply speaking. Smart speakers are bringing a new dimension of connectivity to our homes, allowing for elements of ease and efficiency in our lifestyles.

UnSUBURBIA has looked at this movement towards voice-based commands, and how big tech brands are capitalising on this movement.

A rise in command-based technology

We’re verging towards a reliance on voice search and command, much like we have been with using our smartphones for checking everything from the weather to the latest sports scores.

According to research, 40 per cent of adults are now using smart speakers to gain information or ask for something to be done. More significantly in the prominent rise of voice-activated speakers is arguably the fact that almost three-quarters of people who own a device are said to use it at least once as part of their daily routine, according to a report from Google.

The same report also found that 41 per cent of people who own a voice-activated speaker feel as if it’s like speaking to another person. It’s bringing a whole new relationship between humans and technology – it’s more personable than ever before.

The ease of smart speaker functions

But, the main reason for the rise in smart speakers is simple: it’s down to ease and convenience. The ability to get an answer or for an action to be performed without having to lift a finger? Where and how do we sign up?

In research undertaken by Adobe Analytics, the most popular uses for likes of Alexa and Google Assistant remain as being everyday questions and tasks. Topping the list for using a smart speaker is currently playing music (70 per cent of participants in Adobe’s survey said they do this), followed by asking for the weather forecast (64 per cent).

Other commands included asking fun questions (53 per cent), checking the news (46 per cent) and setting alarms and reminders (46 per cent) – the former of this trio suggesting that voice-controlled tech is still seen as a novelty item to many.

Interestingly, however, Adobe’s research also drew conclusions on emerging trends with the use of smart speakers.  Almost a third of those surveyed said they use their smart speakers for smart home commands, with 30 per cent saying they shop and order items by voice command.

It’s these latter two which show the impact smart speakers are beginning to have in our homes. Yes, there’ll always been the need of ease to shout and ask for a timer or reminder to be set when your hands are tied, but we are using smart speakers as our own PA or housekeeper.

In 2017, the voice commerce industry (those making purchase through voice command) was said to be worth a staggering £154.5m – a figure that is only expected to increase massively in the coming years. The convenience is the biggest factor here; what would you rather, go to the shops and have to pick everything yourself, or tell your smart speaker exactly what you want, and have it ordered direct to your home?

The plethora of plug-ins and add-ons which now can be controlled by these smart speakers – something we’ll look at further on – shows how much of an impact these devices are having on our homes.

Smart Speaker - Google Assistant

“Alexa, please tell me why you’re so popular”

The biggest player in the smart speaker market thus far has been Amazon, with the differing carnations of its Echo becoming an ever-popular feature within the home. The name and digital vocals of Alexa are now synonymous with the idea of voice search.

Amazon recently announced that it has sold over 100 million devices which have Alexa on board – a figure which has left experts asking one question; is that an impressive number of sales for people actively buying a stand-alone assistant, or is it a massive problem for Amazon when taken into context against the pre-installed voice command tech of Siri and Google Assistant?

Despite this questioning of the Echo, the sales success is as plain as black and white. Due to an increase in sales over November and December 2018 (mainly on Black Friday, where over 20,000 units were sold on Amazon in the UK), there were no Echo Dots available across the entire of January 2019.

And the sheer capabilities and stretch of the software is unheralded within voice command tech. There are currently 150 different products available that have Alexa built in, and over 28,000 home devices across 4,500 different manufacturers can now be connected and used with Alexa. Not only that, but Alexa itself can action over 70,000 different skills.

Brand such as Sonos, Hive, Arlo and Phillips are all associating themselves with this tech, allowing Alexa to control their products through voice control. Plug-ins are available to connect to wall sockets and will operate on a voice command to switch on – simply shouting a command will allow you to turn on your lamps, electric blankets and televisions.

Amazon announced in September 2018 it was looking into making the Echo compatible with cars to give more connectivity to the home. Imagine that – driving home from work and being able to command Alexa to flick the oven on or set your heating to a specific temperature. It’s fast becoming reality.

In a clever advertising strategy, Amazon has also given its Echo an emotional element – seen most recently in the advert of a daughter listening to her father’s favourite song. By ‘pulling on the heartstrings’ of the audience, it gives the impression that this smart speaker is a way of connecting with loved ones and evoking memories – a very smart selling tactic.

Will 2019 be Google’s year in the voice search?

There’s absolutely no denying that Google is the champion when it comes to web searches – be it through desktop or mobile. But the undisputed King/Queen of Search is starting to make some serious movements within the smart speaker sector and could soon topple the almighty Echo.

At this year’s CES event, Google totally upped its presence with good reason. It wanted to beat its chest to announce its strengthening position of Google Assistant in the voice command market and show the tech world it was ready to take down Amazon. By the end of January 2019, Google announced that its Assistant tech would be active on over a billion devices – a stratospheric figure. This alone signals a 100 per cent increase on devices since May 2018, where it was believed to be active on 500 million devices.

In a recent interview, Manuel Bronstein, vice president of Google Assistant, said although a large proportion of those usage figures was based on smartphones (Android, in particular), the software was showing notable acceleration in the connect homes market.

This indicated growth highlights how this is an area where the biggest tech and consumer brands want to be and play. They know the future of our everyday lifestyles involves having a smart, connected home to improve efficiencies and allow for ease.

Smart speakers within our homes is the future – and the future is now.