The Age of Smart Talking Interoperable Products

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Smart Talking ProductsWe are literally moving into the age of smart talking products, a new category of the Internet of Things given voice by the advent of Amazon’s Echo/Alexa, and now the newly introduced rival Google Home. And still to come, perhaps, an Apple Siri-enabled equivalent expected in the near future.

The recent Google Home announcement drew a lot more attention to the emerging category, which has been called voice-activated or virtual personal assistants. In the lead-up to the Google announce-ment, market research firm Gartner predicted the VPA-enabled wireless speaker market will be a two-billion dollar business by 2020 – with 3.3% of homes equipped with at least one of the devices. For access to that Gartner report number G00313022 which is entitled: “Forecast Snapshot: VPA-Enabled Wireless Speakers, Worldwide, 2016” click here. It is available to Gartner clients or for separate purchase.

As we are already witnessing starting with the Amazon Echo, these devices can positively change the way regular people interact with connected products in their homes. They bring with them opportunities to enable other connected products to be smarter too—using voice to control actions, make adjustments to temperature and air freshness, automatically shop and re-order, get answers to questions for self-help, and much more with other products connected to Echo’s ecosystem.

At Arrayent, we think a lot about the importance of connected ecosystems which is why we created the Arrayent EcoAdaptor service. We are focused on helping consumer brands easily connect their products to other product ecosystems—and in the process add more value to their own.

The Arrayent EcoAdaptor service provides consumer products manufacturers with an ‘out of the box’ interface that enables them to enhance product benefits and user experiences through interoperation with other product ecosystems. EcoAdaptors do this while reducing the time to deployment and expediting certification processes. The EcoAdaptor for Nest is the first in our growing number of third-party ecosystem adaptors which enable Arrayent customers to incorporate interoperability with other products in a secure and scalable way.

As analysts, reviewers and others have noted, there are limitations to today’s voice assistant systems in that they have only rudimentary vocabularies and limited semantic interpretation & contextualization which in turn can limit meaningful responses and value. But over time, as machine learning, speech recognition, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence technologies evolve, this will change for the better.

There certainly will be other challenges ahead as product designers tackle a voice-enabled world; deciding when and how to use voice vs. visual cues, commands and responses. Not to mention asking themselves whether every product actually needs to have the ability to talk and listen.

As Verge reporter James Vincent noted in his recent article on the category, “When you’re using a device with a screen there are usually visual hints about how to work software, but with voice interfaces you have to rely on trial and error—and that’s really not good enough.”

We recently came across another interesting perspective on designing future IoT products that offered much food for thought. Amber Case, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, made a presentation on her design philosophy at the recent FutureM Conference in Boston. As reported in Media Post’s IoT Daily publication, she argued that products and services should be available when needed but not interfere with consumers’ lives. Among her recommendations relevant to this discussion were that IoT products and services needed to…“communicate, but technology does not need to speak.” Case calls her design approach “Calm Technology.” You can read the entire article here.

Just as consumer products companies question whether their product needs to be connected or not in the design process, they will now question whether the product needs to be voice enabled or not. Will speech make a product better and more valuable? That’s a key question to answer during the design process.

We always guide our consumer product brands towards three core design concepts
as we’ve noted in our blog before – and they are as applicable now more than ever:

  • Solve a problem consumers care about. Target user functionality to make a
    better product, not merely a connected
  • Make the out-of-box experience a fantastic one. Easy to unpack, install, use
    and maintain.
  • Ensure the product is simple to use and works well. There is no 24/7 technician
    onsite for setup or to make sure all works as expected.

For sure, with voice-enabled consumer products it’s an exciting time for IoT. And it’s only just beginning. There’s now a whole new world of opportunity out there to reinvent consumer products and make life better. Thanks Amazon Echo/Alexa, for leading the way. And welcome, Google Home!