’Smart speak­ers’ are an­gling to col­o­nize your liv­ing room

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -


Does your home re­ally need a “smart speaker” that can an­swer ques­tions, call you an Uber, turn off the lights or play mu­sic when you ask? You may be about to find out.

Two years ago, Ama­zon in­tro­duced the Ama­zon Echo, an unas­sum­ing, $180 cylin­der that sits atop a kitchen counter or bookshelf, act­ing as a per­sonal as­sis­tant that lis­tens to you and does your bid­ding. Ini­tially, the gadget’s main pur­pose was a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to dis­cern . But Echo and its Alexa voice recog­ni­tion soft­ware have since be­come a sleeper hit, with an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion gad­gets sold as of April, ac­cord­ing to re­search firm Con­sumer In­tel­li­gence Re­search Part­ners.

Mak­ing the home “smart”

Now the Echo is get­ting some com­pany. On Tues­day, Google an­nounced a sim­i­lar smart speaker called Google Home, which will be avail­able in Novem­ber for $129. It will per­form many of the same tasks as Echo, in­clud­ing play­ing mu­sic and field­ing ques­tions plus con­trol­ling com­pat­i­ble lights and ap­pli­ances. The Google As­sis­tant that works with Home will also be able to ac­cess your cal­en­dar, Google Maps and other ser­vices if you al­low.

Ap­ple has opened up its Siri per­sonal as­sis­tant so that third-party de­vel­op­ers can cre­ate new fea­tures for it, much the way Ama­zon has done with its Alexa soft­ware. Google As­sis­tant is also open­ing up to out­side apps in De­cem­ber. Sony is work­ing on Xpe­ria Agent , a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant that con­nects to de­vices in the home.

All these com­pa­nies are chas­ing the smart-home market, which could grow to be a $71 bil­lion global in­dus­try by 2018, up from $33 bil­lion in 2013 and $25 bil­lion in 2012, ac­cord­ing to Ju­niper Re­search. That’s grow­ing fast, although it’s still much smaller than the smart­phone market, which the re­search firm IDC val­ued at about $412 bil­lion in 2015.

But while the Echo carved out an early suc­cess, it re­mains to be seen whether voice-recog­ni­tion smart speak­ers will truly break into the main­stream. “They’re early, (but) the market is early, and we have a long way to go,” said David Smith, an an­a­lyst at re­search firm Gart­ner.

Learn­ing new skills

One key to the Echo’s suc­cess was Ama­zon’s will­ing­ness to work with third-party de­vel­op­ers, al­low­ing it to add new func­tions each week, mak­ing it easy for own­ers of the speaker to dis­cover new ways to use it. (It launched with a few dozen so­called ‘skills’ and now has thou­sands). “Ini­tially we got it for mu­sic,” said Brian Bishop, a business an­a­lyst in Tom­ball, Texas, whose fam­ily uses two Echos. “Later, when it con­trolled the lights and fans and out­lets, that just made it even bet­ter.”

In­ter­est in smart homes ap­pears to be rising as more peo­ple be­come en­am­ored with their smart­phones. A re­cent on­line survey of more than 4,600 adults in the US by For­rester Re­search’s Techno­graph­ics found 57 per­cent of them ei­ther had used or were in­ter­ested in us­ing a smart home de­vice such as lights or ther­mostats de­signed for re­mote con­trol.

The Echo’s hands-free op­er­a­tion filled an undis­cov­ered niche in the smart-home uni­verse. Users can just say the wake word “Alexa” and direct it to do a task like turn on lights or set a timer. Since you don’t need to use a smart­phone or tablet, that sets it apart from other smart home sys­tems like those of­fered by Sam­sung or Ap­ple.—AP

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