Is telling your lights to switch off really easier than the flick of a switch?
Many of us have had that moment of lying in bed when the dread hits that you have to get up to turn the light off and then make the perilous journey back to bed in the dark. Smart home assistants that let you switch off the lights with your voice should solve that problem, right? If the answer was as simple as this, why don’t we all have lights that you can clap on and clap off? It may be because we’d feel a bit silly clapping to no-one, so why is talking to no-one so different?
Simple. Voice-controlled smart devices talk back. It doesn’t feel like we’re talking to no-one when we get an answer to our request, it’s like we’re talking to a person. This is part of the reason that big tech companies give them names; so we don’t feel quite as silly talking to someone that we know is not there. These services have begun to develop our personal relationships with machines themselves.
Does it not feel strange to talk to a machine?
Services like Siri, Chatbots and now voice-controlled Smart Appliances have gradually eased us into the concept of talking to machines, we haven’t jumped from the clapper switch to having a conversation with a set of speakers. It’s been a while since connected homes were a new concept but few of us have personal experience with smart devices beyond computers, mobile phones and televisions. However, a recent increase in voice-controlled smart appliances is starting to bring the whole concept together and hit the mainstream. Amazon brought the Amazon Echo to the UK market in October this year and the Google Home and Apple Home devices are expected to be released in 2017. With these major tech companies stepping into the connected home market with their Smart Home Assistants, talking to robots may soon be commonplace.
Household Smart Device ownership is spread across different generations due to the variety of smart devices available, and Smart Home Assistants may be able to appeal across these audiences.
Although there is a skew towards the younger generations in their prioritisation of technology in their lives, the role of technology in making things easier at home is still prominent among older generations, suggesting that there is still a place for these devices.
This technology taps into the convenience culture, where we want everything to be more accessible in the most convenient way possible, but it is also a significant step in the relationships that we develop with our machines. Mobile phones are often seen as an extension of oneself, due to the amount of personal information that we store in them and the fact that they are typically only for personal use, rather than shared. So where do smart home devices come in? In some ways, they act like an additional person in your household, someone primarily there to help.
We previously discussed the role of smart devices in our home security and the trust we instil upon these devices and trust will play a key role in the uptake of smart home assistants, as with any relationship that we develop, but particularly due to their nature of being ‘always listening’ devices; this has given rise to fresh privacy concerns.
Our perceived over-dependence on technology also features heavily in this debate, with connected homes giving technology a greater role in our everyday lives.
58% of Millennials claim that they couldn’t live without the Internet on their mobile phone (TGI, 2016) and Smart Home Assistants may be nurturing our dependence on technology.
These concerns are nothing new; in fact, they have a strong presence in popular culture. Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her looked at how our relationships with technology could develop to the point of romance, while Netflix’s Black Mirror takes a darker look at how technology may feature in our own relationships and the privacy concerns in the public consciousness.
I’m not suggesting that people will start to fall in love with Alexa or that Google Home will replace human relationships, but the evolution of how we interact with technology can make the connection much more personal.
What is the opportunity for brands?
The potential for these devices is not limited to technology companies. Brands may be able to work with connected home technology to make more seamless, reactive and non-intrusive interactions with their audience. Due to how recent these developments are, there is little in the way of examples of brands achieving this but the FMCG market has already begun to try to tap into the concept of the Internet of Things. Drinks brand Malibu recently turned 40,000 bottles into digital touchpoints that enabled content to be accessed through near field communications; this is an early example of how brands can utilise this connected world that we are moving towards.