Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Get Smart!

The latest electronic wonders selling like hotcakes are … smart speakers!

Taking advantage by seizing a long head start, Amazon leads in the United States with 70 percent of the domestic market, compared to Google Home with 24 percent and Apple HomePod at 6 percent. Facebook reportedly is developing its own version. Fifty million US homes had smart speakers at the end of 2017; this is expected to double by the end of this year. Smart speaker adoption in China is growing even faster, but uses different products. The worldwide smart speaker market grew 187 percent in the second quarter of 2018.

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The Amazon Echo was first introduced in 2014, initially providing a way to control your music subscription with your voice. Since then, smart speakers have become a whole new product category. In addition to providing access to Alexa, Amazon’s artificial intelligence, and to Amazon’s full array of media offerings, Amazon encourages third parties to offer new “skills” that enable Alexa to integrate with other services, apps, and products. Over 25,000 skills are currently available. Alexa has become the major domo of many modern smart homes, inspiring a rapidly growing horde of imitators and competitors.

If you’re tempted to see what the fuss is all about, you can easily find overwhelming amounts of information on line. If you have a strong attachment or involvement with Siri, Alexa or Google, you will likely feel most comfortable with a familiar voice.  While you can get stated for less than $50, the average new customer spends an additional $700 in the first year for additional products and services.  At a minimum, you will need fast internet service and a reliable wireless home network. If your initial interests include entertainment, you will also need streaming media services and perhaps a smart TV.

Not every smart product plays well with others. Each company has associated products and third party providers with agreements that may exclude competing product lines – they are developing competitive “eco systems”.  If your ultimate goal is to eventually add voice controls for lighting, locks, entertainment, thermostats, security and whatever the future holds, do some careful research before jumping in. If your tech skills are minimal, you may become very familiar with your tech service people as you expand your system.

The fact that smart speakers are always listening and recording (“to learn how you speak”) stirs up a lot of privacy concerns. There have been reports of young children or television commercials initiating unintended purchases.  All current devices provide an option to listen to or delete previous recordings, which could be accessed by third parties.

After setting up a voice-activated smart speaker at home, it is important to configure it securely and act defensively.  For instance, don’t use the voice assistant to remember passwords or credit card numbers and mute the device when it is not being used.

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