Amazon added a new feature to its Alexa voice assistant that will let consumers use Echo smart speakers or other Alexa devices to control multiple smart home devices at once in what it calls “routines.”
Echo owners will be to create their own routines, which are triggered by a user-defined phrase or at a preset time, to have Alexa start reading out weather, traffic, or news, as well as to change the settings for multiple smart home devices simultaneously.
This new feature will start to fill in one of the gaps in Alexa’s smart home capabilities.Previously, Alexa could only control one smart home device with each voice command from a user. There were some workarounds, with companies like Philips and TP-Link implementing their own “scene” settings in their individual device-control apps, which could group devices together under a single joint name that a user could trigger together. Where Amazon’s solution is different, though, is that it will allow users to combine controlling smart home devices with other Alexa capabilities like reading out news and weather, key features that are among the most commonly used smart speaker features.
The new routines feature brings Alexa up to parity with Google Home and puts it ahead of Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem. Controlling multiple devices is important because it makes it simpler for consumers to install and manage a large number of devices in their homes, removing the tedium of turning off each connected light bulb or smart outlet individually when leaving the home or going to sleep. Steps like this will help to increase the number of smart home devices consumers are buying and installing around their homes.
But these routines still just paper over some of the larger issues Alexa and other voice assistants face in natural language processing and interpretation. Alexa, Google Assistant, and other voice assistants are still confined to a single command at a time, so a user can’t tell an assistant to turn off one device and turn on another in a single statement, or to read out the weather and then the news.
These different actions can be combined as part of a routine, but that needs the user to take time to set them up in advance and remember a number of different trigger phrases. This makes the assistant seem less like a reactive artificial intelligence and more like a voice-activated switch, which could stop consumers from making smart speakers the hub of the home that Amazon, Google, and others mean for them to be.
Smart speakers — Amazon’s Echo, for example — are the latest device category poised to take a chunk of our increasingly digital lives. These devices are made primarily for the home and execute a user’s voice commands via an integrated digital assistant. These digital assistants can play music, answer questions, and control other devices within a user’s home, among other things.
The central question for this new product category is not when they will take off, but which devices will rise to the top. To answer this question, BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, surveyed our leading-edge consumer panel, gathering exclusive data on Amazon’s recently released Echo Show and Echo Look, as well as Apple’s HomePod.
BI Intelligence, has put together a Smart Speaker report that analyzes the market potential of the Echo Look, Echo Show, and HomePod. Using exclusive survey data, this report evaluates each device’s potential for adoption based on four criteria: awareness, excitement, usefulness, and purchase intent. Finally, the report draws some inferences from our data about the direction the smart speaker market could take from here.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
- Amazon’s new Echo Show is the big winner — it has mass-market appeal and looks like it will take off. The combination of usefulness and excitement will drive consumers to buy the Echo Show. The Echo Look, though, seems like it will struggle to attract that same level of interest.
- Apple’s HomePod looks likely to find a place in the smart speaker market but won’t dominate its space like the iPhone or iPad did.
- The smart speaker market will evolve rapidly in the next few years, with more devices featuring screens, a variety of more focused products emerging, and eventually, the voice assistant moving beyond the smart speaker.
In full, the report:
- Showcases exclusive survey data on initial consumer reactions to the Echo Look, Echo Show, and HomePod.
- Highlights the aims and strategies of major players in the smart speaker market.
- Provides analysis on the direction this nascent market will take and the opportunity for companies considering a move into the space.