As per Ovum’s Smart Home Forecast: 2015–20, take-up of smart home technology is due to accelerate in the next four years and beyond. Many of today’s solutions are accessed and controlled via smartphone applications. However, for many future use cases this will neither be efficient nor convenient. Constantly having to access the smartphone handset (even if via a single application interface) to make the simplest of commands will only lead to user frustration. New ways of interfacing with the technology in the home will therefore need to be developed, and as voice is one of the most natural ways for humans to interact, it seems the most obvious choice.
The smartphone will be one controller, not the controller
In the future, smart home technology will work without any human interaction at all; it will be able to make its own decisions based on set rules and external conditions/information. But there will always be cases when the user wishes to interact with the technology – to change or check a setting in the home, for example. Although such information could be obtained by accessing a phone app – and indeed when outside of the home this is still likely to be useful – constantly having to access mobile applications when inside the home could become cumbersome. It will be much quicker and far more convenient for the user if they simply have to speak to get the response required.
As vendors jump on the voice control bandwagon, a lot of investment is currently being wasted on installing voice interfaces on every device. The user doesn’t need to talk to every device or have it talk to them; they just want to be able to communicate with those devices through the medium of voice. If the user wants to check that the back door is locked, they don’t want to have to go to the back door and ask it if it’s locked; they want to ask the home, in whatever room they are in, if the door is locked and get a reply. They want a few central interfaces around the home that are connected to the smart home platform and in turn to all devices on that platform.
Amazon is one player that has put significant investment into a voice interface for the smart home. There are others, such as Apple and AT&T, but in Ovum’s opinion Amazon’s solution is currently the closest to delivering the type of scenario discussed above. Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant was first launched in Amazon’s Echo speaker, but it has now spread to other devices such as Invoxia’s Triby speaker (in part due to a $100m fund provided by Amazon). The Amazon Echo speaker is also being integrated into other smart home ecosystems, such as Vivint’s, which already had more than 1 million customers across North America in October 2015. By expanding its own ecosystem and being integrated into others, Alexa could not only penetrate more homes, but spread from room to room in those homes through other third-party connected devices. This will help the user to access the smart home from anywhere in the house rather than just from a central point.
A voice interface is only as good as the AI platform that sits behind it, and like all other voice interfaces in today’s market, Alexa is not the finished article (see Ovum’s opinion piece “Amazon moves into the smart home with Echo, a novel but flawed virtual assistant (in a can)” for more detail). Such flaws can lead some to believe that voice control is nothing more than a gimmick. However, Ovum believes that as ecosystems grow and further refinements are made – both to enhancing the natural voice capabilities of interfaces and the AI platforms that sit behind them – a voice-controlled smart home will definitely be a thing of the future.
Digital Economy 2025: Consumer Services, TE0003-000876 (November 2015)
Smart Home Forecast: 2015–20, TE0003-000887 (November 2015)
“Amazon moves into the smart home with Echo, a novel but flawed virtual assistant (in a can),” TE0001-000956 (February 2015)
Michael Philpott, Practice Leader, Consumer Services