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Not Convinced About Voice Control’s Future

Will the Category Continue to Grow or Will the Novelty Wear Off?

All of the reporting about continued proliferation of voice control at International CES last month got me thinking about the future of that interface in the home. So much effort and money is spent on integrating every product with Amazon Echo and Google Home, yet do we really understand where the technology is headed?

Several writers have touched on this topic recently, including our own Jason Griffing, who blogged that “Speakers are Smart. But Now What?” sharing the viewpoint of others who say that “Alexa” falls way short of “some sort of central AI” in their home. Even as a means of control, he writes, “that’s still the realm of apps, physical switches, and handheld remotes. And the Echo certainly hasn’t represented a paradigm shift in the way I think about and interact with my home.”

A recent article in the New York Times revealed that a management consulting firm surveyed “heavy users” of virtual assistants–folks who use the technology more than three times a day. The firm, called Activate, found that the majority of these users turned to virtual assistants to play music, get the weather, set a timer, or ask questions. Activate also found that the majority of Alexa users had never used more than the basic apps that come with the device, although Amazon said its data suggested that four out of five registered Alexa customers have used at least one of the more than 30,000 skills that it makes available.

Others are quite cynical about the very motivation behind the push by Amazon and Google into hardware, speculating that they want to “decouple” their services from the iPhone, after failing to create their own Apple-killer smartphone offering.

Bringing it back to our channel, I’m not saying that hardware companies and integrators shouldn’t be embracing voice control, but I just wonder if the hardware has a future or if the novelty will wear off, as we realize that standalone speakers aren’t really solving any problems and that their speakers aren’t that great.

I agree with Jason Griffing, who says that the next step for these companies will be to aggressively push their platforms beyond the constraints of a single hardware category (i.e. a stationary smart speaker). “We are already seeing a growing number of examples–think voice control built into appliances, TVs, and thermostats. I expect this ‘voice control everywhere’ trend to continue as we move through 2018. While today many see smart speakers as synonymous with voice control, soon they will be nothing more than another instance of our platform of choice. From our cars, to our appliances and light switches, to our wearables and phones, voice control will be there.”

For now, I will continue to ask Alexa to set my kitchen timer and my kids will ask her for the weather forecast. And for some reason my mom will ask her to meow like a cat.