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Smart appliances’ capabilities enabled by voice control

Smart appliances’ capabilities enabled by voice control
Besides smart speakers, more and more devices - including thermostats, light switches and TV remotes - are getting voice capability, allowing users to control them with voice.
Smart speaker with display is a new form of smart home product. Major players in the industry like Amazon and Google have launched their products, positioning themselves as front runners in the field.

Amazon launched the first Echo Show two years ago, making it the pioneer of smart speaker with display. Now the second-generation Echo Show has great improvement from the previous model, in terms of both design and spec. The 10.1-inch HD touchscreen comes with a fabric-covered angular base, featuring speakers with dual 2-inch neodymium drivers, a passive bass radiator and Dolby processing. It offers a front camera for video calling and visual presentation in tandem with Alexa’s voice messages. It has a retail price of US$229.99.
Google Home Hub, Lenovo Smart Display, JBL Link View and LG XBOOM AI ThinQ WK9 are all powered by Google Assistant and the Smart Displays platform. In other words, they have the same software and interface but in different hardware.
The Google Home Hub has a 7-inch touchscreen and two far-field array microphones, and supports Bluetooth 5.0. It doesn’t have a front camera built-in, due to Google’s privacy concern. It’s priced at US$149.
The Lenovo Smart Display has two sizes: 8-inch and 10-inch touchscreen with front camera. It’s built on Qualcomm’s Home Hub Platform with four dual microphone arrays and two of 2-inch 10W full range speakers with two passive tweeters. The 8-inch model costs US$199.99 while the 10-inch costs US$249.99.
The JBL Link View, also powered by Qualcomm Home Hub Platform, is designed with an 8-inch touchscreen in the center and speakers on both sides. It features a 5MP front camera for Google Duo video calling with JBL’s audio technology. It costs US$249.95.

LG’s XBOOM AI ThinQ WK9 features an 8-inch touchscreen with the company’s Meridian Audio algorithms to power better audio. The retail price is US$299.
These devices are mostly positioned as a kitchen helper, which presents recipe in audio and motion, as well as an entertainment tool, which plays music and videos on YouTube. Besides their slight differences on tech spec and device design, the biggest difference is the platforms they use - Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
The Echo Spot, however, is more like a display device to be placed beside the bed or on a reading table. Its small and round display can’t present much information as the 10.1-inch Echo Show can. However, it provides sufficient information, including live footage from the outdoor security camera and singer names and lyrics when playing music. It also features a front camera for video calling. The device is available for US$129.99.

Other forms

In addition to “traditional speakers,” Alexa has been installed in various appliances at home. In the home entertainment category, Alexa has showed up in Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and Voice Remote, Polk Command Bar and Sonos Beam, allowing homeowners to control their TV and music playing via voice.
The assistant is also on the walls, with the help of smart thermostat ecobee4, smart light switch ecobee Switch+ and smoke alarm from First Alert Safe & Sound. Since normal speakers require to be plugged in all the time, these in-wall devices have brought the voice assistant to places at home where speakers cannot reach.
And there is GE’s table lamp taking Alexa to the tables, Kohler’s Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror taking Alexa to the bathroom, Garmin’s Speak Plus transporting Alexa into the car and Bragi’s wireless Bluetooth earphones Dash Pro carrying Alexa everywhere. Also, some Windows 10 PCs have Alexa built-in as well.
Google Assistant, on the other hand, has not been integrated into as many devices with various forms. Nonetheless, it has been installed in the Nest Cam IQ Indoor security camera and Bluetooth earbuds made by Google, Sony and JBL.

Platform war rather than device options

“It’s important here to draw a distinction between a smart assistant and a smart speaker. By and large, it is the smart assistant that will drive the market for smart speakers,” said IDC senior analyst Adam Wright.
For the mainstream market, smart speakers with a 2-inch or 3-inch woofer don’t make much difference for end consumers. They might think about the design and then the voice assistant platform. Each voice assistant has its own advantage in terms of how it serves users. Amazon Alexa, for instance, knows user’s online shopping cart the best, provides the most third-party voice skills and supports the most smart home gadgets; Google Assistant understands user’s Google data the best, from Google Calendar, Google Search to Gmail; Microsoft Cortana helps improve productivity with its knowledge of Outlook data; and Sir works the best with HomeKit-enabled devices.
Consumers are asked to choose platforms when purchasing smart speakers. And, according to IDC’s research, they are interacting with multiple platforms over the week or on a single day. “This is largely due to the fact that no smart assistant in today’s market can provide the complete portfolio of services and functionalities that consumers are looking for, and struggle to transfer those experiences across different settings, such as the home, the car, the workplace, hotels, restaurants and other public/semi-public settings. Until a vendor can overcome those challenges, there’s still plenty of room in the market for new entrants,” said Wright.

The convenience and money-saving benefits can overcome consumers’ concerns on privacy and security when they purchase smart speakers. These devices do bring convenience to users at home and reduce household costs including energy bills. “As more and more consumers become aware of these benefits, the smart speaker market will continue to witness substantial growth,” said Wright.

Over the next several years IDC expects to see improvements on smart speakers in microphone and speaker quality, allowing them to deliver richer audio experiences. For voice platforms, smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant will become more conversational like a real companion at home, instead of speaking in a static and rigid manner like they do now.
“Over time, we’ll begin to see some advancements that not only make interactions more conversational in nature, such as the ability to issue multiple commands without having to re-issue the ‘wake’ word, but also more intelligent in the form of more personalized, contextualized and automated experiences,” said Wright.
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