Have you ever wondered how long it takes for a new technology to conquer the market?
For example, after the television was first introduced, it took 13 years to reach 50 million US citizens as regular users.
The internet reached this number 4 years after it was presented.
However, the most incredible achievement belongs to smart speakers based on voice assistants. They became part of everyday life for 50 million Americans in just two years.
We can confidently name smart speakers as the fastest spreading technology so far.
Voice assistant technology
The chances are high that you have been familiar with the voice assistant technology even earlier. You are right with your guesses, we are talking about Siri. The smart assistant offered by Apple is on the market since 2010. Siri “lives” in your iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Mac and you are already used to making voice requests and joking with her.
Since that time, a lot of “colleagues” of Siri appeared. Amazon has introduced Alexa, Google Assistant is also here for a while. But in today’s article, we will focus not on digital voice assistants but on their “homes” - the smart speakers.
What hides behind them? What is the secret of their popularity? What “smart” things can these devices do today and what will they be capable of tomorrow?
Let us guide you through the secrets behind this fascinating invention!
What is a smart speaker?
Actually, it has more possibilities, as you would expect from a wireless speaker. As you already know, it is a voice-command device with a voice digital assistant on board. It can answer your questions, perform requested actions, and manage other smart home devices.
Best of all, interaction with the device is completely hands-free, as it relies on voice commands only. Employing artificial intelligence, this personal assistant constantly improves, becoming better at recognizing user requests and offering better service.
Why are smart speakers popular?
It’s all about the price.
The first TV sets were extremely expensive. An average family couldn’t afford one and had to be satisfied with radios first.
The internet itself wasn’t much expensive, but to use it you had to own a computer - a device that definitely wasn’t meant to be part of every household at that time.
Smart speakers are a phenomenon. This newly developed technology was immediately released to the market at an affordable price. For example, the cheapest Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini currently costs $50 - the price of an average family dinner.
Even though this device’s capabilities are still limited, the potential is already obvious. More and more people want to become familiar with this new technology as soon as possible. These reasons have placed the voice assistant based smart speaker in every fifth household in the U.S. Impressive score!
What can an intelligent personal assistant do?
There are multiple features you will appreciate. Among them:
- Play music
A smart speaker can connect to your account on different streaming platforms, such as Spotify or Google Play Music, and play requested tracks.
- Inform on the weather
After checking weather forecast websites, the device can inform you about the current weather and provide weather-appropriate clothing recommendations.
- Answer questions
Do you urgently need to know the exact population of the neighboring state? The assistant scans the Wikipedia knowledge base to answer even the most sophisticated questions.
- Set alarms and manage a to-do list
Smart speakers are quite good at setting reminders. You can ask it to wake you up at a particular time or remind you to pick up your tuxedo from the dry cleaner.
- Order food or taxi
You can ask your assistant to order you a pizza, book a table at the nearest restaurant or call an Uber. However, this works only if the service providers developed the capability to work with the smart speaker you are using. But don’t worry, Uber and most chain restaurants are already there, with local businesses following.
- Shop online
Online shopping is easier and faster with a smart assistant. Just ask it to order certain products from Amazon or other online shops. If you have previously added your payment method, the purchase will be instant.
- Entertain children and adults
Voice games, fairy-tales, audiobooks, podcasts - this device can entertain everyone despite age and interest differences.
The functionality of a smart speaker can be extended with “skills” - the analog for applications on a smartphone. Skills are also a strong marketing and selling point for local B2C businesses since they enable potential clients to contact your company and order a service in the easiest way.
The best smart speakers currently available
Naturally, the world’s tech giants immediately entered the race. As a result, you can find voice digital assistant speakers offered by Amazon, Google, Apple, and also some local offerings, such as Yandex. Let’s review these devices!
Amazon was one of the first companies to release a market-ready smart speaker called Echo. In 2017 it already had a monopoly of 72% of the consumer market. The smart assistant inside Echo is Alexa, and you can wake it up by just saying the name.
There are several Echo devices currently available for purchase: Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot, Amazon Echo Show, Amazon Echo Spot, Amazon Echo Tap, and Amazon Echo Plus. The prices range between $50 for an Echo Dot and $230 for an Echo Show.
The devices vary by size, sound quality, and connectivity types. Echo Show and Echo Spot also have a screen and a camera, enabling video calls and displaying requested information or play video content.
Not surprisingly, all Echo devices can shop for you on Amazon or play content from Amazon Prime. Further, it can also call you an Uber, order food or book a table at your favorite restaurant (if there is a skill for that restaurant).
The Amazon Echo Plus has even greater functionality. In addition to previously described perks, it connects to other smart home devices in your house. So, if you need to turn off the lights in the living room or check what’s in your fridge - you can just ask Alexa to do that.
Google is currently the closest competitor of Amazon Echo. It accounts for around 19% of the market with three devices: Google Home, Google Home Mini, and Google Home Max, with Google Assistant on board. The prices vary between $50 and $399. It is worth mentioning that the most expensive device, the Google Home Max, offers the best sound quality among all the voice digital assistant speakers. The secret is in its machine learning technology, which adjusts the equalizer settings to match the acoustics of the room!
Google Home’s capabilities are similar to those of Amazon Echo. However, there is one significant advantage - instant access to all Google services and all the data associated with your Google account.
Integration with Google Maps is especially useful, as the device can analyze your visit history and deduce your favorite restaurants, supermarkets or cinemas. Also, your search history is available to your smart assistant. Since it uses machine learning, any information about you and your interests may help the device respond to your queries more efficiently.
Further, Google Assistant can recognize up to 6 different voices, which will surprise you with its high grade of personalization. This makes Google Home a truly personal assistant, even if it is used by several people.
Apple has not yet acquired a large market share. However, HomePod has many advantages, despite its high price - $349.
HomePod was created with a focus on music. Offering high-fidelity sound, it allows you to enjoy all the benefits of hands-free interaction. Siri, which you should already be familiar with, is your smart voice assistant here as well.
Along with music, HomePod offers classic smart speaker features, such as setting a timer, sending and receiving messages, managing calendar events, controlling HomeKit devices, etc.
The above smart speakers mainly target English-speaking markets. This has prompted local companies to develop their own devices. For example, Yandex has recently introduced the Yandex Station with Russian-speaking Alice on board. This smart speaker will cost $160 and will be available in Russia only. Of course, users will be able to enjoy music and video streaming from popular Russian services, like KinoPoisk and Amediateka. It will also integrate with local taxi services.
What is the future of voice assistants based smart speakers?
The technology is currently making its first steps, even if they are confident ones. But we expect that personal assistants will develop rapidly, offering better interaction, higher quality speech recognition, and the ability to solve more sophisticated problems.
Personal assistants will continue improving. Machine learning algorithms ensure that the system improves with each processed request. As a result, the speakers will literally become smarter. This means that they will be able to not just respond to single queries, but also hold conversations.
The smart voice assistant will also learn the preferences and habits of its owner. As a result, it will be able to provide a more customized experience, predicting queries and offering more exact search results.
Localization is the main obstacle to smart speakers being spread worldwide. Most are currently available in English, German or Chinese. Localization to other languages will open the door to wider markets.
Smart speakers use has spread with impressive speed. The voice assistants technology is more than affordable and offers many benefits to its users. Having a personal assistant with access to the unlimited knowledge stored on the internet - isn’t this what mankind dreams about?
However, smart speakers are not just another consumer electronics device. They are a completely new sales channel for local small and medium-sized businesses. Curious about that? Then don’t miss our next article. We’ll take a closer look at how integration with smart speakers can help your business grow its client base and sell more!