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Voice-automated devices are evolving. Here’s what you should know.

As voice-driven digital assistants — like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant — become more mainstream, what will the next generation of home automation products look (and sound) like?

When Amazon launched the Echo — its first Alexa-enabled product — way back in 2015, it seemed straight out of science fiction. We were introduced to the concept of controlling all aspects of a smart home with one central device, commanded by the sound of your voice. Your wish for traffic updates, thermostat changes and paper towel re-ordering was its command.

Most people were familiar with using voice assistants equipped with artificial intelligence, as Apple included Siri on their updated operating system in 2011. While that technology also felt revolutionary at the time, the results were sometimes limited or inconsistent.

But the smart speaker category is now taking voice-automated technology and home connectivity to the next level by providing real value to users’ lives, like pre-heating an oven from another room or instantly re-ordering household supplies online.

Competition is growing

While Amazon defined the category and took a commanding early lead, the rest of the industry is now beginning to catch up. Google Home, with the AI of Google Assistant, allows for similar functionality, as well as connectivity between all their other products and services.

Apple’s HomePod uses HomeKit technology, and puts Siri in a more robust role in user’s lives. But at this time, the device itself seems to focus more on being a music player that provides exceptional sound quality than on being a well-rounded assistant. And it’s currently priced at twice as much as the Echo or Home.

Others — including Samsung’s Bixby, which uses Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant, and a wide variety of products from lesser-known manufacturers — are also working to find their own niche in this growing industry. 

So what does the future hold?

The easy answer is greater convenience. Expect the creation of new skills that will further the functionality and coordination of activities within the home. From predicting grocery purchases and maintaining a full fridge to streamlining utility usage, voice-automated devices may soon be able to offer valuable suggestions, as well as taking commands.

Another area seeing expansion is home security. The latest devices can actively watch all aspects of a home and interpret if an issue arises while homeowners are away. Capabilities range from monitoring home products for any needed repairs to protecting the home from unwanted intruders, and contacting the authorities if necessary.

But I think the biggest game-changer that will come for artificial intelligence is the addition of well-rounded AI personalities. Currently, the voices used in all these products are still somewhat robotic. I imagine the next step in fully integrating this technology into people’s daily lives is the creation of human-like interactions. Again, it’s straight out of science fiction, but the more realistic the conversations become, the more comfortable users will be with this emerging technology.

The problem with creating a list of predictions is that it shows how quickly the technology is evolving. On the first draft of this blog post, two of my prognostications were the addition of a camera and a video screen. About 30 seconds after I hit “Save,” Amazon launched the Echo Look. This device incorporates a camera with Alexa technology and can provide clothing recommendations to a fashion-conscious audience.

In the middle of revising my writing, Amazon introduced the Echo Show, a device that includes a 7-inch LCD screen that can show driving directions, provide a visual list of information and allow video calls, all with the help of Alexa.

So, I’m going to hurry and get this post finished before…well, crap, Amazon just bought Whole Foods. I guess the next generation of digital assistants will be able to do your grocery shopping for you.

For the latest information about voice-automated devices or new ideas to help your brand take advantage of this rapidly growing category, just ask Alexa to call Power. In the meantime, check out our blog about how forward-thinking brands are already placing branded content on voice-automated devices.

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