As technology develops, so too do the ways in which we interreact with it. From touch screens to virtual reality, businesses are consistently looking for ways to increase immersion in the technology they provide. Voice enabled devices are one of the most exciting new pieces of tech which is set to revolutionise how we live our lives. Speech technology has already been developed to help us quickly get daily tasks done, from setting an alarm to ordering a taxi.
In this article we explore Amazon Alexa, the current leading voice controlled device on the market. We give an overview of what it is, what it does, what that means for you and cover a few alternatives on the market.
So What is Amazon Echo and Who Is Alexa?
You will have likely heard of the retail giant Amazon. They have already impacted many of our lives with their quick and simple online shopping experience.
Amazon Alexa is the name given to the artificial intelligence available on the amazon Echo range of smart home speakers. Similar in many ways to how Siri is the name given to Apples version available on their products.
Asking or telling the device the right thing will allow you to quickly execute a number of tasks including playing music, making calls, answering a question, getting a weather report, checking your schedule, getting a traffic or sports update, managing shopping and to-do lists, controlling your smart home and much more.
The concept behind the tool is to make your life easier, instead of having to get out your phone or laptop, you can simply tell the speaker what you want doing and it will do it for you. Unlike older technology where you would need to press a button to give a command, Alexa is always listening and you can interact with it by simply saying “Alexa” or “Hey Alexa”. The microphone on Echo devices is sensitive enough to pick up commands from anywhere in most average rooms.
Sounds Awesome! What are Alexa Skills?!
Just like your phone has apps, Alexa has Alexa Skills.
These ‘voice apps’ are usually developed by third parties and can add a whole host of new functionality and helpfulness to your Alexa device. For example, many leading businesses will create Alexa Skills that allow the operation and support of their products via Alexa devices. The Alexa Skill possibilities are endless. Some of the most popular current Alexa Skills include:
Developed by Philips for their smart lighting system ‘Hue’, the Alexa Skill allows you to turn your light on, off and dimmed. It even lets you change the light to a supported colour.
Hive is a smart home heating system, usually retrofitted to your current home heating system. Unsurprisingly, the Alexa Skill allows you to adjust the heat in your house as well as turn it on and off.
Uber, the popular taxi app, allows your easily order a taxi to your door by using a simple command.
The music streaming services works seamlessly with Alexa devices. Just say “Alexa, play [insert favourite song] on Spotify” and away to go. The only slight downside is that if you miss “…on Spotify” it will try and set you up or sign you up to their own Amazon music service.
Get your latest news briefing from the Guardian via your Alexa device. This skill is also available for a lot of other news outlets.
”50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020 & 13% of all households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017, per OC&C Strategy Consultants. That number is predicted to rise to 55% by 2022.comScore & Garter
How could I use my Amazon Alexa during my everyday?
The major benefit of Amazon Alexa is simple…it makes your life easier.
We have already explained many of the ways that Alexa can be used to complete day to day tasks such as playing music, setting alarms and reading out news briefings. Here are some real world situations where Amazon Alexa can positively impact the way you live:
Cooking: Your hands are covered in flour and you need to know the next step in the recipe for your delicious banana bread. No need to wash and dry your hands to check, just ask Alexa.
In bed: This is ultimately lazy. Set up Alexa to turn your bedroom light off when you are ready to go to sleep eradicates the need for the mad dash from your cosy bed to the light switch.
Quickly brighten the mood: Does the mood need lightening in the office or at home? Ask Alexa to tell you a joke…although you are more likely to laugh at how awful it is than because it is actually funny.
Set a timer: Need to time something, Alexa can do this for you. In fact, a survey of 180 Amazon Echo users highlighted this as the top task they asked Alexa to complete.
Buy stuff easily: Although it may seem like the primary purpose of Alexa is to purchase from Amazon, in the aforementioned study relatively few people use it for this purpose. More common was using the tool to add items to a shopping list.
I have heard of Google Home, what is this and are there any alternatives?
Given the popularity of Amazon Alexa, the term voice-controlled device is often used synonymously. However, there are some other great options available from market leaders. Two of the most common are Google Home and Apple HomePod.
Google Home was the first real competitor to Amazon Alexa. According to one study Google Home makes up 18.4% of intelligent voice assistant market, compared to 71.9% owned by Amazon Alexa.
Google Home is a great option for those that use Google’s services such as calendar and maps. It is also plugged into the power of Google’s search engine, so arguably answers questions more accurately than other options. The audio quality is also one of the best on the market, making it a good option for those who plan on listening to music through the speaker.
Apple HomePod holds a much smaller fraction of the market than Google and Amazon. However, like everything from the tech giant it is a seriously smart bit of kit. Just like Google, Apple HomePod is a good option if you already buy into the Apple ecosystem; iPhone, Mac, iTunes etc. If you don’t own an iPhone it will actually be impossible for you to set up the speaker.
We can see that Amazon Alexa is a smart piece of technology which is already changing the way people live their lives. As the technology develops and it is applied to other parts of our lives we are likely to see this type of technology as an everyday occurrence.