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The smart home finds its voice

Voice-controlled technology has long excited the minds of sci-fi buffs and technological prophets. Today, its promise of freeing up our hands and eyes in exchange for a more seamless user experience seems closer than ever before. Indeed, voice recognition has evolved from providing farcical misinterpretations in its infancy, to a stage where it successfully detects 95% of human speech – as much as we humans do ourselves. The hype around voice tech was at full display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, where a central theme to new product launches, no matter how different from one another, was what kind of voice compatibility they would be offering.

The arrival of Google Home

On April 6th, Google Home arrived for British consumers – nearly six months after its main competitor, the Amazon Echo. Such “smart” speakers are a big part of the voice push, providing simultaneously the cockpit and pilot for your smart home products. Smart home products in this instance include anything that makes your home more interactive – from mood-sensitive lighting that can adapt to your entertainment needs, to plug sockets that will have fresh toast and coffee ready just as you are slipping out of bed in the morning.

The appeal of smart home technology

According to GfK Point of Sale data, almost 400,000 smart home products* have been sold since the beginning of 2016 up until February 2017. Of these devices, over 60% work across multiple platforms. Lighting solutions have proven particularly popular so far, accounting for a significant proportion of the sales volume, perhaps because they offer the opportunity to test out the new technology without much expense and commitment.

The take-up of these products is perhaps not surprising given that UK consumers rated smart home highest among the technologies they consider most likely to have an impact on their lives (47%), above other innovations such as wearables and mobile payments (GfK Smart Home, 2015). The areas respondents found most appealing were exactly the ones that the Amazon Echo and Google Home cater for – Security & Control (38%), Energy and Lighting (36%), and Entertainment & Connectivity (36%).

For now, there seems to be willingness among manufacturers to provide early adopters with choice and integrate as many different voice assistants as possible. However, as the smart home becomes mass market, hub providers like Amazon and Google may demand exclusivity to encourage usage of their own platform. A potential lack of cross-platform compatibility that would make your smart devices “unwilling” to talk to each other could put consumers off the entire smart home proposition.

The voice assistant arms race

Amazon and Google may have been quickest to come to market in terms of standalone hardware, but they are by no means the only participants in the voice assistant arms race. While Apple has not released its own dedicated product, their popular voice assistant Siri in combination with the Apple Home app carries out comparable functions. Similarly, with Microsoft already possessing their own voice assistant in Cortana and Samsung recently launching Bixby alongside the Galaxy S8, this space looks set for further growth in the year ahead.

We will continue to track adoption of voice automation and smart home technology. If you would like more information, please contact Toby Jarvis, Account Manager – Consumer Electronics, toby.jarvis@gfk.com.

*Includes: lighting products, intruder detection/security, connectivity kits and plugs.

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