Amazon launched its first smart speaker back in 2014, followed by Google in 2016 and Apple in 2018. Research suggests that as of June 2019 one in five UK households now have a smart speaker and global sales are close to 100 million. The ubiquity of this most science fictional of all domestic appliances seems to have occurred almost imperceptibly. Most of us can probably remember the wave of desire that swept over us the first time that we encountered the proud owner of a smart speaker command their device to play an album that not so long ago would have necessitated a trip to a record store, remember those, and the exchange of money in return for a bit of plastic. For most of us, the novelty of having a voice-controlled jukebox with millions of songs, takes a while to get over and yet your smart speaker is capable of so much more.
Smart speakers listen to your conversation until they hear a ’wake’ word, at which point they begin to record your speech, their algorithms learn your speech patterns and preferences and modify their services accordingly. If you are uneasy about your speech being stored, you can request that your queries are deleted after three months. The data that is being accumulated from the 100 million devices is head spinning, but of course we live in a world in which our data is being harvested and analysed every time we are online.
The market is dominated by Amazon Echo, of which there are five versions currently available, including the Echo Show 5 which incorporates a visual display. Google offers a range of six devices and Apple offers two. There are also other speakers, such as Sonos and Bose, which are compatible with the Amazon and Google systems and which provide superior sound quality. All three smart speaker systems allow you to impose parental restrictions, making them suitable for use by children.
What can they do?
The short answer is ‘a whole lot more than you think’. What do you use your smart speaker for? Playing music? Playing the radio? Setting the timer for your soft-boiled eggs? How many of us think of our smart speakers as a digital personal assistant? How many of us use them as an interactive Filofax, which is exactly what they can be. They can remind you of appointments, they can give you train times, and they can book you tickets. Amazon has a library of over 80,000 apps for its Echo Range. How many are you using? A smart speaker gives you the opportunity to transform your home into a smart home. A smart speaker can interact with a smart fridge, a smart thermostat or a smart TV. The simple addition of smart plugs and smart light bulbs will mean that you can voice control a whole range of other devices. What are you waiting for? Ask your smart speaker what it can do for you.