Alexa, Write Me a Blog Article
With the holidays over and the new year just begun, it’s time for everyone to settle back into their regular old routine. Except, perhaps, everyone who picked up a smart speaker during the mad winter’s sales rush. Both Amazon and Google sold their respective virtual assistants at such a deep discount for the holidays, it’s amazing there isn’t one in every home (spoilers: I don’t have one yet, but my in-laws do, and I get a kick out of pestering Alexa with nerdy questions).
But while Alexa and GoogleHome are the most popular smart speakers on the market, they aren’t the only ones. The Sonos One speaker is highly touted among audiophiles for its sound quality, and the JBL Link 20’s 10 hour battery charge makes it the most portable speaker out there. On top of that, Roku, Samsung, and LG have just announced their plans for joining the smart speaker business, and while the Apple HomePod has been delayed, it’s still set to be released sometime this year.
With all these options on the market, how do you pick which one to go with? The first thing you want to consider is not what brand you wish to purchase, but which virtual assistant you want running your house. As it turns out, the virtual assistants don’t play nice with each other, even if Google Assistant likes Alexa’s blue light. Right now, most speakers run either Alexa or Google Assistant, but Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri will soon be joining the line-up, even if it’s on a much smaller scale.
It’s not Alexa and Google, but these two Google Home speakers have been set up to talk to each other, and they’ve even given themselves names!
Because Alexa and Google Assistant have a strong foothold in the smart speaker market, it’s going to be difficult for the other assistants to compete. Siri hasn’t made much progress from her days running iPhones, and Cortana, as much as I loved her as Master Chief’s holographic companion, feels like a half-hearted attempt in an already cornered market. Not to mention, much like Bixby, Cortana is fairly limited in her capabilities.
So what can you do with these speakers, aside from asking them “What’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” (By the way, you will in fact get “42.”) The obvious answer is listen to music, of course, but at least with Alexa and Google Assistant, you can pair them with other internet connected devices, such as smart thermostats, smart light fixtures, and smart coffee makers. You might feel a little bit silly the first few times you ask Alexa to turn off the lights, but when you think about it, it’s about as silly as wandering around the house, turning each light off individually.
Want to get a quick weather report without having to turn on the television and waiting for the right section of the news to come up? All the smart speakers can tell you. Need to start a grocery list, but you’re constantly losing track of the one you’ve already started? A smart speaker can track it for you, and when you’re in the grocery store, all you need to do is check the app on your smartphone. They can also set timers, reminders, and search the internet for the best recipe for challah.
And that’s not the end of their abilities, either! For example, a coworker with the Echo Dot and a six year old son informed me that the other night, his son asked Alexa if she could fart, and much to the young boy’s delight, she replied with a long, resonant…well, it wasn’t a bugle, that’s for sure. Truly, technology is marvelous.
According to this graph from Statista.com, the most common use for smart speakers is winning arguments.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that Siri, Google Assistant, Bixby, and Cortana all got their start on phones, only Cortana is capable of receiving calls. However, Amazon recently released a gadget called the Echo Connect that will enable you to turn any of the Amazon Echos into a speakerphone for your landline. Now, I know what you’re thinking: who even has a landline anymore?
Well, your parents, probably. And as it turns out, smart speakers are kind of a hit among middle-aged consumers, especially those that are slower to adopt new smartphone technologies. A popular theory as to why is because the voice command interface is much more intuitive and easy to use than trying to slog through a pile of apps on a dinky little cell phone screen. While setup can be a bit complicated (especially for the Google Home devices), once it’s installed, all you really need to know is the activation phrase, and then you’re all set to start asking questions to your heart’s’ content.
But it’s not all fun and games over in Smart Speakerland (even if you can play Runescape on Alexa). Like all internet connected devices, they run the risk of being hijacked by hackers and industrious pranksters. Right now, even though the Sonos One and Bose SoundTouch are the only speakers explicitly known to have vulnerabilities, it’s still important to make sure your internet network is properly secured. After all, if you wouldn’t want some parrot or your children to use Alexa to order off Amazon, you definitely do not want a Russian hacker to do it either.
It’s exciting to see how far voice recognition technology has progressed over the years. We’ve come a long way from voice-locked password diaries that only worked in very quiet rooms while you were shouting at the top of your voice. Now, you can even hold conversations with Alexa by speaking the activation phrase, “Alexa, let’s chat,” and while it’s really more like a game of twenty question than an actual conversation, she can still recognize what you’re saying and respond appropriately.