The Evolution of Smart Audio – why we’re listening now

Smart speakers such as Google Home, Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s newly released HomePod have been on the market for less than three years – and in Canada we are still within the first year of smart audio – but market trends and research suggests this is an area we should all be paying attention to. Research confirms that 1 in 6 Americans (16%) own a voice-activated smart speaker. This is an increase of 128% from January 2017 and is already outpacing the adoption rates of smartphones and tablets.

While the data suggests that most early adopters invested primarily to listen to audio, these users have started to make use of the voice-controlled personal assistants in Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and others. These assistants make use of the multitude of skills (smart audio’s version of apps) available to help manage their day-to-day lives. These skills of course include accessing your music and making phone calls, but they are evolving as more and more companies develop their own integrations. Media and news outlets such as CBC and CTV offer Flash Briefing integrations allowing you to customize the news you receive updates on. Other companies such as Air Canada have designed skills that allow you to access flight information, or you can receive tips from Good Housekeeping and cocktail recipes from Patrón spirits. All evidence suggests that industries and brands interested in staying relevant and having continued exposure to consumers should be taking note and developing ways to leverage this technology.

Hydro Ottawa is one of those companies taking note and is working to have its data discoverable for Google Home and Alexa by spring of this year. The first phase will include conservation tips and recommendations, allowing customers to query their smart assistant with questions such as “…how can I reduce my energy bill?” or “when is the best time to do laundry?” This phase will also provide information on outages to keep customers informed and up to date as information is available.

This might lead you to ask: how someone can monitor a power outage without power? Smart assistants are available outside of the smart speakers they are powering. They are already accessible not only on your phone, but in your car. Most major car companies have a deal or are in the process of negotiating deals with Google and Amazon to make smart assistants available in new models. The built-in Alexa model will have many of the same features as your typical Amazon Echo – meaning you can ask for directions and check the news, but you can also control your connected smart home devices remotely. On the Google side, full-blown Google Assistant functionality is coming and offers the same level of access to your smart home as well as the ability to lock your car remotely or check fuel levels if your car gives that level of access. And for those not due to purchase a new vehicle, one only needs to purchase a compatible device for less than $100, plug it into your power adaptor and Alexa is at your fingertips.

It’s almost certain that the next evolution of smart audio is right around the corner. As Google, Amazon, Apple and others continue to develop and expand the capabilities of their smart assistants; those companies and brands with the foresight to develop skills and integrations now will be in the best position to reach consumers moving forward.

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