The Rise of Voice Assistants in Home Control and Challenges Brands Face

It is hard to read an industry article or report these days that does not mention the rapid growth of voice control and voice based technologies leveraging artificial intelligence. Parks Associates in a recent report named voice as a prime differentiator in the user experience for the smart home.  As the number of devices consumers interact with in the home has increased, so has the complexity in user experience and voice as a natural easy-to-use interface is helping to alleviate complexities in the user experience of today’s smart home.

Given the potential and strong consumer desire, it’s no surprise that brands are now making voice a component of their strategy. Recognizing the strength and limitations of today’s voice assistants is essential for brands to identify a strategy to incorporate voice control. The limitations can be categorized as the following:

  • Traditional brand loyalty at risk
  • Failure to reach intended usage
  • Lack of compatibility with current installed base

Traditional Brand Loyalty at Risk

Despite the fact that several companies have introduced voice-controlled personal assistants, the market remains largely dominant by two major players: Amazon and Google. A report released by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, LLC (CIRP) in August, indicates that within the US installed base of devices, Amazon Echo and Google Home make up 94%. Another report by Canalys published in August, analyzes the global market of smart speakers and estimates that Google and Amazon accounted for 57% of the global market.

With smart speakers having a global market growth of 187% in Q2 2018, it is only natural for product manufacturers to be eager to integrate with these solutions to gain a competitive advantage by adding voice capabilities to their products. Voice technology enables brands to connect with consumers in a personal way while addressing complex tasks through a natural interface.  At the same time, these existing platforms pose serious risks to brands, and despite the compelling new experiences that they enable, incumbent brands will need to find ways to deal with the loss of control over the consumer interaction and the brand experience provided.

 Lack of control over the conversation with the consumer, as well as the pivot of brand loyalty to the platform used for voice control  all contribute to the difficulties for brands to compete.

Lack of control over the conversation with the consumer, as well as the pivot of brand loyalty to the platform used for voice control – ‘Hey Alexa’ or ‘Hey Google’ – all contribute to the difficulties for brands to compete.

One solution could be that , consumers would use multiple virtual voice assistants for varying needs and the home becomes an ecosystem of different assistants rather than a single platform. Brands that realize this early on and start offering their own virtual assistant for the niche experience they provide, will have a competitive edge.

Failure to Reach Intended Usage

As voice control has become essential, a growing number of brands are experimenting with introduction of their own apps on these platforms - referred to as “skills” for Amazon Alexa, “actions” for Google Assistant - to utilize the reach of already dominant platforms. These in theory enable brands to engage with consumers through an existing virtual voice assistant and enable interesting use-cases for the connected home.

According to CIRP, the current U.S. installed base of smart speakers has hit 50 million. Despite the large number of installed base, consumers engage with them for very limited use-cases. Parks associates lists primary activities using these virtual voice assistants as requesting information, finding direction, playing music, making calls and such; with control of the devices being the least popular use-case.

To some extent, consumers not fully utilizing these capable platforms can be contributed to the hurdle in discovering and setting up the added capabilities, skills or actions. The number of these skills is exploding and discovery remains a big barrier for consumers. Once discovered, setting up the platform to utilize the skills is also a cumbersome, multi-level process that average consumers will not go through.

The idea of growing the installed base and reducing the friction on adding additional capabilities to existing voice platforms has the potential to increase the engagement; and though it is showing improvement and promise, there’s still a long way to go. Adopting QuickSet's device discovery engine capabilities into smart speaker solutions, can help with the friction of discovery and utilization of relevant skills. Imagine a smart speaker platform that's capable of identifying a specific brand within the home and then prompting the user to install the corresponding skill. This can drastically improve consumers' utilization of brands' skills.

Lack of Compatibility with Current Installed Base

As discussed in more length in a recent blog ,  Interoperability: The  cornerstone Of Connected Home , interoperability is a major factor in the connected home. When it comes to compatibility with the devices within the home, today’s available platforms only address a small subset of devices and remain focused on cloud service integration to achieve limited control capabilities.

Ultimately today’s voice activated AI capabilities fall short in providing features needed for interacting with what consumers already have in the home and do not address the prioritized list of what they are spending majority of their time at home doing. With adults spending nearly six hours a day consuming video across platforms, one would think compatibility with the existing entertainment devices within the home would be one of the first use-cases these platforms should address.

Today's solutions lack compatibility with mainstream devices

QuickSet, leveraging its device fingerprinting technique and tapping into its constantly growing knowledge graph of devices, enables compatibility with new as well as existing devices within the home. This technology is a natural addition to the next generation of AI driven voice assistants to address this limitation.

State of the Market : The Rise of Voice

With the rise of voice technology and thanks to players such as Alexa and Google Home, people are embracing a new way of engaging with the things around them. According to Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, approximately 18% of people living in America owned a smart speaker in July 2018, or roughly 43 million people. That is up from 16%, or 39 million people, in January.

A study done by Parks Associates estimates that 55% of U.S. broadband households will have a smart speaker with a voice-based personal assistant by 2021.

55% of U.S. broadband households will have a smart speaker with a voice-based personal assistant by 2021.

Leveraging an intuitive form of communication, voice assistants create a compelling level of interactivity between consumers and brands. This new way of interaction enables brands to offer new services and establish a deeper relationship with consumers.

One can ask with the current state of the market and the players involved, is brand loyalty at risk? Stay tuned  as we explore this further.

Entertainment and The Connected Home

Technology has always been a cornerstone of the entertainment industry. The evolution of smart devices and the expansion of connectivity have played a major role in how consumers discover and watch content today. Ultimately shifting viewing habits as well as consumer expectations when it comes to not only the entertainment experience but also the promise of a connected home.

These technological advances have led to new ways of delivering and consuming content where consumers have many choices for content consumption across platforms, devices, and distribution channels. Despite the fragmentation, consumers are watching TV more than ever before.

According to Nielsen’s Q1 2018 Total Audience Report, U.S. adults spend nearly 6 hours a day watching video across devices. Nielsen shows a steady increase from previous quarters, pointing to the fact that not only does TV viewing remain the number one activity households engage in, but is also on the rise.

Adults spend nearly six hours a day consuming video across platforms

Today, the average home has 9.1 connected devices. Improvements in the technology and consumer desire for an enhanced lifestyle have all contributed to this rapid growth of the smart home and the penetration of connected devices within the home. Despite the proliferation of devices, consumer demand and opportunities in providing added value, the vision of seamlessly connected homes is not fully realized. Friction in getting devices to work with each other, lack of interoperability, and having to use multiple control points have created customer fatigue as opposed to delivering on the promise of utilizing technology to build products that make life simpler.

Nielsen highlighted in a report that 49% of users prefer to be able to control all aspects of their home through a single device, service or app for a unified experience. This can only be delivered when crossover compatibility and interoperability is a possibility. More than two-thirds of consumers want crossover applications that integrate with their home entertainment devices - according to Parks associates - with use cases around safety and security alerts being integrated into the entertainment experience.

The convergence of connected home and entertainment experience seems inevitable with adults spending six hours per day consuming video; it is a natural progression for consumers to want their entertainment system to work with other devices within their home across smart energy and lighting, smart security and home automation. This will enable new experiences that deliver the promise of the connected home, where technology simplifies life and brings comfort and convenience.