Before CEDIA, I could have cared less about Amazon’s Alexa voice control assistant/speaker. It just seemed like a $179 toy that I had no interest in.
Ask it to tell me a joke? Sure, that will keep my 10 year old entertained for a while. Ask it for sports scores? I already know that Alabama won and the 49ers lost, thanks. Ask it to play music and use the mediocre built-in speaker when I have a house full of far better audio? Umm, no thanks. Ask it to give me a drink recipe? Now we’re getting warm, but when you can actually make me a drink, then I’ll be impressed!
Alexa was packed with some features that made it handy and cool, sure, but it didn’t offer anything I needed that I didn’t already have in my pocket with my phone.
But after CEDIA, that all changed, and Amazon suddenly found itself the darling of the integration community.
So why is Amazon’s Alexa the breakthrough product that is finally going make voice control viable?
It’s Open. Prior to CEDIA, Alexa had some home control capabilities but they were all relegated to working with DIY gear. But for many people, the game changing news out of CEDIA was announcement of Alexa’s integration with leading automation companies Control4, Crestron, Lutron, and Savant. And where these companies lead, others will follow.
And once Alexa is in this world, it is truly unlimited what you can do with it. In my house a Movie Time voice command turns off all the lights, lowers all the shades, turns on my video projector, drops my screen, turns on my pre-amp, turns on my Kaleidescape, and brings up the movie cover art view. All of this is done while I’m walking from the kitchen to the couch with a couple of drinks in my hands.
Also announced was Alexa integration with Sonos, letting potentially millions of existing owners add a cool new feature to their music systems. PlayFi also announced Alexa integration, but even cooler, new PlayFi speakers will actually act as Alexa speakers, broadening the reach of voice control throughout the home and eliminating the need for another piece of hardware.
That Alexa uses an open standard and will work with a variety of different systems is going to make all the difference.
It’s Cheap. Usually game changing announcements in our industry also come with “Oh my DAY-UM!” pricing.
Not only was it incredibly affordable to begin with, Amazon brilliantly announced the refresh of the Echo Dot at a shockingly affordable $49. You can even buy five and get one free!
Now, for less than the price of one of the fancy remote controls we love so much, you can outfit an entire house with voice control. For $49, you could afford to just drop one in to every project and get people hooked on it. And once people see how easy — and cool! — it is to control their house with voice, I’m betting they will want to add more things to control.
It’s Time. The dream of living in a future with TVs so thin they can actually hang on the walls is now an everyday reality for everyone. But controlling our homes with voice has remained another one of those Star Trek promises of the future right up there with flying cars.
Voice control has been hovering on the periphery of our industry for a while but just hasn’t seemed to be able to catch on. Heaven knows television manufacturers gave it (and gesture control) the old college try for a while, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a customer actually use the voice control function.
Other companies have toyed with voice control — VoicePod, anyone? — but it just hasn’t been able to take hold.
With the explosion of smartphones, people are also accustomed to asking devices for things. “Hey, Siri” and “OK, Google” to get directions, call a contact, or search for something are intuitive voice commands that nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. Extending this control from your pocket to your home is a logical step and something that people want to have.
It’s Hands Free. The problem with most voice control system to date is they required picking up a remote and speaking into it. And once I’ve grabbed a remote, I might as well just use the remote. You know. The one that’s in my hand. And sitting back and saying, “Channel up…channel up…channel up…” is more work than just using a bit of micro-force in my thumb to press a button.
This is why voice control so far has been mainly relegated to things like search, because it is far faster to ask my DISH Hopper3 to find “Westworld” than to try and type it out one letter at a time.
And people are going to inherently gravitate to the thing that is the easiest, which is why voice control makes so much sense to kick off macros or lifestyle scenes in a home.
And with Alexa always listening, you can just call out and ask it to do things. Like when you are coming or going from your home and maybe have your arms full or don’t want to fumble around to pull out your phone and open an app. Or when you are working in the kitchen and have you hands all covered in gunk.
It’s Demonstrable. Many of the systems we sell require elaborate setup and explanation to demonstrate, where you prep people about what you’re going to show them, then tell them what you’re showing them, then explain again what you just showed them.
Not so with Alexa.
People innately understand talking and asking for things and they will immediately get using Alexa and seeing how it would fit into their lifestyle. Further you can easily — and affordably! — set up voice scenes in a showroom that people will immediately grasp a
nd have them use. “Why don’t you tell Alexa to turn the house on? Now why don’t you tell Alexa to turn on dinner time? Now tell Alexa to turn the house off.”
They don’t care about all the lighting control you programmed in the background, or how you got the audio integration to work. They will just see that with a simple voice command they took control of their home.
Alexa is coming. Now the question is: What are you going to do with it?