In August, Sonos announced that its line of multiroom speakers and soundbars would be compatible with Amazon’s digital voice assistant, Alexa, allowing users to cue up music on their speakers and soundbars by voicing a command to any of Amazon’s Alexa-enabled-devices. From a user experience point of view, this type of integration makes perfect sense. Voice, whether in controlling your lighting or simply finding out the weather forecast, is an easy way to access information quickly, but is also surprisingly natural for controlling audio. A year into owning an Echo, I’ve found voicing a command to Alexa to play music is a lot easier than flipping through pages of apps and menus on my phone.
The Sonos announcement is yet another sign that voice control, and by extension digital voice assistants, are quickly impacting how we use technology hardware. According to a recent NPD Omnibus study, 38 percent of consumers have used a digital voice assistant like Alexa or Siri. Most have become familiar with digital assistants via their phone, and in fact, 86 percent of those polled said they have used a digital assistant on their smartphone. The phone is a great device for voice assistant applications, but the use case for these applications differs depending on the devices they run on and where they’re located. So far, Amazon’s Echo speakers have focused on interoperability with smart home products in addition to the skills or voice apps they add each week. With this in mind, Alexa is most helpful at home if she can be accessed in multiple rooms. This is precisely why Amazon revamped their Dot speaker and dropped the price to $50. The goal for Amazon here is not necessarily to sell speakers, but to sell consumers on Alexa everywhere.
Interestingly, a symbiotic relationship exists between voice assistant applications and the smart home market. For wider adoption, digital assistants need to demonstrate they are useful for things other than setting timers and connected home products need to show they add real value to the home – not just connectivity for connectivity’s sake. Pairing the two together creates a scenario where consumers can experience the best aspects of both.
In the short time since the Echo went mass market, we’ve seen other devices integrate voice. In September, GE announced that its connected Monogram and GE-branded appliances would be controllable via Alexa, while camera and drone maker GoPro also added voice control to its new Hero 5 cameras. These products join Google’s forthcoming Home speaker and Jam Audio’s Jam Voice in a quickly growing field of voice enabled CE devices. Over the next 12 to 18 months, expect voice to become the newest ‘gotta have’ feature in consumer technology with TVs, cameras, and even A/V receivers potentially adding the feature. This is in addition to the numerous PCs, mobile devices, and smartwatches that already offer voice control. Whether the feature is built-in or arrives in the form of a connecting device like the Dot, voice control and digital assistants are poised to change the way consumers interact with technology products.