It’s been a busy few weeks for voice control. Amazon released two new products in its continuing bid to take over the world of home technology (including an $89 voice control puck called the Echo Dot— think of it as Echo’s little brother). It’s voice control that actually works (most of the time). If you’re not embracing this technology, then prepare to get left behind.
Amazon Echo features "Alexa" voice control
You’re probably thinking this means no profits for you and yet another example of the DIY-ification (yes, I just made that up) of home technology. Hang with me for a minute I’ll show you a path to profitability.
Last month I received a call from one of my clients asking if we had any way to control lights, TV, and HVAC with Alexa (Amazon’s virtual assistant). His 93-year-old mother loved her Echo and wanted to add functionality. “Sure!” I said. Luckily I’ve had Alexa in my house since last July. She controls my Lutron lighting control system, interacts with Alarm.com, and is capable of controlling thermostats like the ecobee and Nest. All said and done, the project totaled around $4,000 with a gross margin well north of 50 points. That’s $4,000 from using a DIY voice control product from Amazon as the springboard. Think of Alexa as another user interface (no different from a tablet, phone or remote control stick). It’s another flavor of ice cream and some of your customers will want it. Some will ask for it by name.
Don’t fall into the classic integrator trap of “contrarian just because I can’t sell it.” I watched integrators do that with Apple TV and Sonos (other great examples of springboard products), with more forward-looking competition happy to take advantage of their short sightedness.
I’m not advocating changing your business model, but merely suggesting keeping an eye on voice control is a no-brainer. It’s harder for us as a community to embrace voice control. Years of conditioning (remember Home Automated Living voice control?—my wife sure does. It drove our family nuts for four years) have trained us to steer our customers away from voice control. But, the technology is now stout enough to at least offer a belt and suspenders approach for interested customers.
If you install a system with voice control, make sure you have a backup. In my scenario for the 93-year-old mother, I made sure to include Lutron Pico remotes for each room within easy reach of where she sat for lighting control. As for the TV control, I used a Control4 EA-1 controller with a six-button keypad (with the following button assignments: PBS, HGTV, TCM, OFF, VOL+, and VOL-). The whole solution works flawlessly and selectively uses Alexa where she’s strongest. A TV control solution using Alexa would fall flat right now, but that’s coming.
By leveraging voice control, think of the new markets you could tap into. Assistive technology solutions for aging in place and disabled customers are the easiest to go after. You’ll find your local medical facilities devoid of good information about assistive technology. Imagine a world where it’s still 1982 and X-10 reigns supreme. I’m not kidding. Our own experiences tapping into these markets reflect this. There’s very little competition in the space and it could lead to a steady stream of purchase orders from organizations like the Veterans Affairs (VA) and local department of rehabilitative services offices (we’ve accomplished both).
Think of customers who need these solutions vs. want them and you’ll find a new source of revenue. Don’t get me wrong, going after new markets like these won’t be easy, but the rewards are fantastic (never mind the feel-good satisfaction of allowing someone to live more independently). I’d love to hear your experiences using voice control in the comments.
Stay frosty and see you in the field!