The rise of Smart Speakers – why are they so popular?
Pioneered by the Amazon Echo, the relatively young smart speaker market has seen an influx of new models over the past couple of years – and there’s more to come in the form of the Apple Homepod and a Bixby-powered Samsung speaker.
These voice-activated speakers allow you to play music, make shopping lists and google what the capital of Pakistan is (Islamabad), all without lifting so much as a finger.
Despite only being on the market for a couple of years, 42% of smart speaker owners say that they’re essential to their everyday lives. Clearly something about them is hitting the right notes with consumers – but what?
Perhaps the first thing to note about these gadgets is (with the exception of the Echo Show) that they are screenless.
This presents a unique challenge – providing smooth UX without a visual UI. Conveying information using audio alone is a challenge, and the only thing telling you that Assistant or Alexa has registered your request is a glowing light.
But this could be where their success lies. Saying what you want to happen is effortless. By going screenless, smart speakers make swiping and scrolling redundant – leaving users hands-free to do what they want.
It signals a change from the heavy ‘head-down, hands-up’ involvement needed to use typical mobile apps, freeing us from the constraints of mobile devices. Google Home’s advert revolves around ‘keeping us in the moment’ – like the Levi Jacket and Snap Inc Spectacles, perhaps the next generation of tech products will be focused on complimenting everyday experiences rather than driving them.
The beauty of the speakers is that commands flow off the tongue in natural, colloquial language. Even something as seemingly mundane as giving the speaker a human name ‘Alexa,’ makes the experience personal – it’s like having your own Jeeves.
This makes the smart speakers accessible to everyone – even the perhaps more tech-phobic elderly. Not everybody is comfortable using an iPhone, but everybody knows how to ask somebody to do something.
Yet as this Wired video demonstrates – the voice recognition needs to be pitch perfect, or else frustration and hilarity ensues.
But, like a real butler would, the more you use your smart speaker, the more better it gets at serving you as an individual. Machine learning helps the gadgets pick up on your speech patterns and preferences – using its history to pick out personalised suggestions for you.
There is admittedly something a little creepy about a device that is constantly listening and observing what you do. Concerns over privacy and security have already been raised (those very worried should opt for Apple’s Homepod).
Yet for the moment, the ease of use and interconnectivity of smart speakers win over these concerns. Watch out for Cortana and Bixby-powered devices next.