Smart Speaker: What's next for the new technology?

Munich/Nuremberg (dpa/tmn) – We encounter language assistants in more and more places in everyday life: In the car, for example, the telephone can be controlled with it and at home the television changes the program on demand.
Smart speakers with integrated language assistants go even further: the clever speakers also research the Internet on command, read out the weather report or the news.
They can also function as a control center for other networked devices such as lights, music or heating. Often built in the shape of a sphere or cone, smart speakers are very restrained in their own four walls and do not even need a power connection to work in battery mode.
Smart speakers are still relatively new. "Amazon launched the first one in Germany in 2016. Google followed shortly afterwards and later Apple," says Timo Brauer from the technology magazine "inside digital".
Amazon and Google in particular have since tried to increase the market share for their Alexa and Google Assistant systems. According to Brauer, on the other hand, other providers hardly play a major role in language assistants. "A few years ago, Samsung introduced a smart speaker with its own voice assistant Bixby, but it never came onto the market in this country," he says.
Microsoft has also said goodbye to the end customer business with Cortana. Large electronics manufacturers such as Xiaomi would rely on their own technology in their home market of China, but would equip the same smart speakers with assistants from Amazon or Google for the European market. Apple users traditionally speak with Siri. The matching networked box is the Homepod.

Some activities not so good for voice control

But as easy as conducting the smart speakers is, in practice the technology quickly reaches its limits.
"The manufacturers had to realize that smart speakers are very practical for individual functional areas, but are not universal assistants," says Rainer Müller from the trade magazine "connect". "Searching the web or maintaining shopping lists is less useful with purely acoustic interaction than one might initially think," he says.
Significantly more helpful and popular: the use of smart speakers for smart home applications. "Controlling networked lamps, blinds, heating thermostats or vacuum robots on demand is very convenient," says Müller. And the voice assistants are also often used to control the music.
Some devices with voice control are quite affordable
All in all, according to Brauer, language assistants have already become part of everyday life, which has generally led to a higher acceptance of the technology. "Initially, smart speakers were a gadget for tech-savvy users," he says. "Not least because of the low purchase price of 30 or 40 euros, the devices are finding their way into many households."

Skepticism about the clever speakers?

"There is a large group of consumers who are very skeptical about smart speakers, which is likely to have something to do with data protection," says Müller. In addition, many consumers would see no benefit in the networked boxes.
But a lack of trust in the technology can also lead to rejection, for example when reports are made of smart speakers that have activated themselves.
However, Müller considers such concerns to be unfounded. The devices are normally always on reception and wait for the activation word, only then does the recording start, he says: "Unwanted activation shouldn't be a big problem in practice." For more complex questions, however, the language assistant may not deliver any results.

What was searched for can be quickly deleted

Timo Brauer sees the technology reaching its limits when a smart speaker receives voice commands from several users, for example an entire family. "It doesn't work reliably and it's also not possible, for example, to access different streaming accounts so that everyone can play their playlist on demand."
According to the experts, it is possible to delete search queries with all common voice assistants with just a few clicks. In addition, Amazon and Google have the option of having all voice recordings automatically deleted after a period of time that you can set yourself, says Brauer.

Great enthusiasm at first – but what's next?

After the initial euphoria, the enthusiasm for the smart loudspeakers seems to have cooled down a bit. According to figures from the industry association gfu Consumer & Home Electronics, sales in the smart audio sector are declining. "After a peak of 1.9 million devices sold in 2019, there were only around 1.5 million in 2020 and 2021," says Roland Stehle from gfu.
The reasons for this are complex and, in addition to general saturation, could also be related to the overall very fragmented smart home market, says Stehle. There is still a lack of a uniform standard, which makes it difficult for end users to find their way around.

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