Everyone seems to be talking about how great smart speakers are and how they can change your life forever.
Call me a cynic but I just can’t see why people are falling over themselves to part with their cash for these devices when they do everything that you could do yourself if you were prepared to get up off the sofa or get out of bed and even if you couldn’t your smartphone could do if for you with the right app.
I must be one my own here though, since Amazon introduced the smart speaker in 2014, sales have gone from strength to strength. In the US alone nearly 25 million smart speakers were sold in 2017.
So why all the fuss about smart speakers, are they really a worthwhile purchase or a device not worthy of the hype?
So what can smart speakers do?
On first inspection, they seem to do everything your mobile can do, so why would anyone want or need a smart speaker.
I haven’t got one, but when I ask those that do why they are so good, I always seem to get the same stock answer;
- You can ask it any question you like
- It can control devices in your home
- It will play your favourite playlist
All sounds very nice, but not encouragement enough for me to go out and hand over my cash, if I want to know what the weather is like outside, I can look out my window, if I want to play music, I can pick up my phone and select a playlist.
I accept that some will argue that the speakers free your hands to do other things and to some, this is a clear advantage.
As I understand it the range in which a smart speaker can pick up your voice command varies between devices and as such you will probably need to buy more than one for different points within the home, depending on how you are going to use it.
So what smart speakers are available?
As at writing Apple hasn’t released their smart speaker but the Homepod will be released sometime this year.
I’d be very surprised if they price the product inline of that of the other manufacturers, that isn’t the Apple way.
So that leaves the Amazon Echo, Dot and Show, Google Home and Mini and the Sonos One.
What is it about the design?
As these are devices for the home, you would expect them to incorporate some level of design so they fit into the décor of your home without being obtrusive. I’m looking at you Amazon Echo Show.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and when they were first released they were just a long piece of plastic and weren’t the prettiest devices to look at and in some instances this is still the case, I’m looking at you Echo Show!
The design is otherwise improving, but at the end of the day, again like smartphones, there is only so much that you can do with the design.
They’re only smart if you are willing to put your hand in your pocket
While they are called smart speakers, to actually get the full benefit of their usefulness around the house you have to buy further devices. Not really condusive to someone that is about making money and saving money.
This isn’t necessarily bad, the devices aren’t that expensive and if you would rather have your light turned on while you’re sitting on the sofa watching your favourite show, then you might consider the cost worthwhile.
It isn’t just lightbulbs you can buy, there are plugs, thermostats and locks and I’m sure some technological mastermind will find something that we didn’t know we needed to become the next tech billionaire.
So what’s the catch?
Having a device that is constantly on, listening to everything you say waiting for its wake command feels somewhat intrusive.
Yes, I know this is no different to your mobile phone and it shouldn’t bother me as I have nothing to hide, the thing is, I don’t actually have the voice assistant turned on my phone either, reading this back I certainly see similarity’s to me and Edward Lyle from Enemy of the State
There are people that feel really strongly about this, I couldn’t care less.
Buying a device from any one manufacturer only serves to lock you into their ecosystem and surely that’s their point from a manufacturers point of view. Where better to separate you from your money but in the comfort of your own home without having to lift a finger. What happens after you have your devices for one smart speaker and decide that you like another later on. Will these devices all still be compatible?
Spend, spend, spend
Yes, you can turn on parental controls so nothing is bought accidentally, but how many people actually do this or know they can do this?
What can be easier than telling the device to order something that you’re running out of? Amazon made it easier to order items with one-click and now they’ve made it even easier. Love them or hate them, you have to give them credit for the way that they have revolutionized the way that we shop.
What next for smart speakers?
Artificial intelligence is improving all the time, but as it does will smart speakers be the best way of utilising this intelligence? I would say probably not and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were already a bunch of college graduates somewhere coming up with the next big thing, ready for the likes of Amazon or Apple to snap them up before they’ve even released a product to market.
If this does happen, what becomes all of those devices that have been bought for your smart speaker or the smart speaker itself, like much of the technology we use today, I assume that a large proportion of them will end up in a landfill somewhere.
Am I convinced?
For the time being, smart speakers are certainly serving a purpose for some.
For me though, I have to say that I’m not truly convinced. I don’t mind getting up out of bed to turn my light on, if I’m desperate to know something, I can get my mobile out of my pocket. I can even set my timer on my thermostat to come on when I expect to be home.
Saying all the above though, I wasn’t that sure about mobile payments, and now I’m a convert.
So what do you think?
Could you live without your smart speaker(s) or like me are you not truly convinced, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.