Smartspeakers seem to be the most hyped consumer electronic product of the last twelve months. But what exactly are they?
Imagine if your HiFi could listen to what you said and answer your questions, as well as play music. That is precisely what smartspeakers can do, acting as voice assistants – a cloud-based analyst of your questions – who can surf the Internet for you, play your favourite music tracks, order your food shopping, manage your smarthome and more.
In this sense, smartspeakers are the next iteration of the voice assistant first witnessed on smartphones when Apple introduced Siri on iPhone. Every major tech firm now has its own voice assistant, and the move to put these inside all kinds of smarthome devices seems to be the logical next step: Google with Google Home, Microsoft with Cortana, Amazon with Alexa, Apple with Siri and more surely soon to follow.
If you have ever used Siri on an iPhone you have got some idea of how smartvoice assistants can help around the home. You can ask them to play music, answer questions, and if your smarthome is compatible with your voice assistant, you can even ask it to dim the lights and set the thermostat for a cosy night in. For example, Belkin offers voice assistant support for its WeMo dimmer switch. The big tech firms want you to use their voice technologies because they know voice commands will be a hugely important part of future user interfaces – and this will seem perfectly natural, they promise.
Today’s smarthome assistant market is developing rapidly. The big tech brands dominate, but there are many smaller firms vying to break into the market and a larger number of electronic device manufacturers are forging partnerships to use one or more of the following technologies in their devices. At this point in market development the industry looks like this:
Amazon’s Alexa first appeared in its Echo product, a series of connected listening posts dotted around your home. The company has taken a partnership approach to proliferating its solution and, at this year’s 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the prevailing joke among the media was that if they stood anywhere in the hall and yelled the ‘Hey Alexa!’ trigger phrase, you would hear responses coming from devices right around the hall. Alexa was woven into numerous new products at the event, including Lenovo’s Echo-like speakers, LG’s new InstaView smart fridge, new Whirlpool home appliances and even new cars from Hyundai. Samsung (which recently acquired its own voice assistant, Viv) surprised some pundits when it said its PowerBot VR7000 autonomous sweeper will be compatible with Alexa later this year. Amazon’s decision to work with other manufacturers has given it a strong lead in the smartspeaker sector.
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