Smart Home Voice Control : Your daily habits are largely dependent on household appliances. From the coffee maker to the lighting, and from your radio to the thermostat. Electronics that you usually control manually, because voice control is mainly an uncomfortable picture of the future from imaginative science fiction. Or an invention of the father from Gremlins , who mainly devises gadgets that no one seems to really need. Nevertheless, in recent years there has been significant development in the field of voice control. Time for a general introduction.
What is Smart Home Voice Control ?
The average household is increasingly equipped with smart gadgets. Intended to make everything that little bit easier, in line with the saying ‘convenience serves people’. In addition to the functionality of the equipment, the operation is also subject to evolution. For example, you no longer have to get up from your couch to put on an album. You can control the various zones of your music system from a single smartphone. To make your television jump channels, you simply talk to it.
Smart Home Voice Control options
The current possibilities of voice control go further than moving your TV channel or dimming a lamp. Your entire smart home is about to be taken over by voices from the future. Even without the robots that you may have walking there. Which brands are involved in this, and what are the latest developments?
Perhaps the first party that comes to mind with voice control is Siri. The voice that lives in your iPhone or other Apple device is now somewhat more developed than screenshots of funny answers would suggest. Siri has become more versatile, and in addition to everyday tasks such as sending messages and scheduling meetings, it can also look up the right app for you, give you directions or get the latest sports news.
However, in voice control of devices other than your phone itself, Apple is overshadowed by Amazon and Google. For example, there is no speaker with Siri yet. You can, however, use Siri on your Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch. You can read more about Apple’s voice control options in our extensive article about Apple Home for iOS and WatchOS .
Alexa, simply calling Amazon’s Siri variant, doesn’t do the brand’s voice control module justice. Siri only assists Apple users in operating your phone, while Alexa Voice Service has the potential to operate your entire house. Or at least the equipment in that house. In addition, Siri is reserved for your iOS device, while Alexa is more open source. This allows other brands of functions to be added to the module. For example, you can enable Alexa to order a pizza, tune your instrument or launch Spotify with a very specific command. Alexa, play the 2001 soundtrack : A Space Odyssey . In addition, brands are free to add Alexa to their own equipment. At CES 2017 we saw the popular potential of that. Alexa is also pushed to other devices by Amazon itself .
Amazon Alexa is now also available outside the US. The Amazon Echo, one of the Alexa-compatible devices, will initially only appear in Germany and the United Kingdom. But a Benelux release can never be far away. And that’s great, because the smaller and cheaper Amazon Echo Dot has now also arrived at our Eastern neighbors.
The Amazon Echo is a freestanding speaker connected to Alexa Voice Service. In addition to playing music, it can therefore also provide updates on news, weather and sports. You just have to ask for it. The device is equipped with seven microphones to be able to receive your requests well and from all over the room. Even when music is playing. You do not need a first touch to initiate the operation. In practice, the question is of course to what extent you can actually communicate properly with your speaker in a noisy environment.
Of course, technology giant Google can also be found in this part of the market. Although not as a forerunner, but who knows again as a trendsetter. The Google variant is integrated in the Google Home hub under the name Google Assistant. And this Assistant can handle entire conversations, instead of just carrying out individual requests. Practical example? You not only order your movie ticket via Google Assistant, but also immediately ask for reviews of the film, or the easiest way to get there.
In addition to the portal to voice control, Google Home is also a WiFi speaker that can play music directly from the cloud. You can access albums and songs via the well-known music services, or play them from an Android or iOS device via Google Cast. The latter is interesting, because it also allows you to use the Google Home to operate other connected speakers in the house and to have access to video content. Thanks to the connection with Google Cast, you can literally request any YouTube video imaginable from your Home and play it on your television.
As a home automation hub, the Google Home can become the epicenter of your smart home. Set your alarm, make a shopping list, control all your connected networks (lighting, locks, thermostats), all with voice control. Price and availability in the Netherlands is not yet known, the first European market will also be the United Kingdom for the Google Home.
Is voice control something for you?
In the current landscape, Amazon and Google are the main parties for the range of voice control modules. With the aforementioned hardware, you have already gone a long way in using the possibilities, provided you have a smartphone to get started. Not for daily use, but for the initial settings. You need a microphone and a speaker in every room in which you want to operate (part of) your house with speech.
If it’s not your smartphone, then it must be a physical device (possibly a hub, a speaker, or a console) that you can talk to and answer. At the moment, with the abovementioned options and platforms, this means that for optimal operation you have to place multiple Echo or Google Home speakers in the house, or have to grab your smartphone in rooms where there is no speaker. As mentioned, more hardware will be added in the short term, also from brands that, for example, process Alexa in their own equipment. Think of Sonos for example.
Of course, it only becomes really interesting if you also have (enough) smart equipment at home to operate via speech. Lists of brands and devices that are compatible and how it works can be found online for Alexa and Apple as well as Google Home . It is important to find out which products can and cannot be served with the platform you choose.
For now, adding voice control to your smart home is just that: an addition. So many steps have been taken in the user-friendliness of smart electronics that you can operate almost everything with a smartphone or tablet. In addition, the functionality of a physical app is still more extensive. Think of filters for your musical playlist (‘don’t play Bieber’) and timers for your lighting and heating. It is difficult to teach a speech module wishes and preferences, the services do not yet have that much AI. And also consider the very obvious limitations: Dutch is not important enough for these large companies, so the question is whether a fully-fledged Dutch service will soon be feasible. And that is regardless of accents and dialects.
What will the future bring?
If you are not a fanatic early adopter, for whom it is often mainly a sport, you would do well to wait a little longer. Not only on the availability in the Netherlands, but especially until the functionality of voice control apps not only replaces, but completely exceeds it. By then we may also see a predominant party setting the standard, like the VHS CD and video tape once did for audio and video. A cautious prediction? Amazon, given the amount of brands (including LG and Huawei) that have come up with hardware in which Alexa is integrated in recent months.