Smart Home, Smart Move? The Pros and Cons of Voice Assistants

Posted on June 7, 2018 by Media Culture

Today, almost half of Americans use a voice assistant on one or more connected devices, including smartphones and stand-alone speakers.

It’s not uncommon to hear someone hail their friendly neighborhood helper with a cheery “Hey, Alexa!” or “Hello, Siri!” But even as these brave new devices enter homes and businesses and start taking over some aspects of daily life, it’s important to take a step back and really examine their utility and risk.

For many Americans with disabilities, for example, digital voice assistants as a part of a smart home setup have been a game-changer. Lights, appliances and other necessary devices can be easily controlled with a voice command. In addition, these devices can be used to help calculate proper doses of medicines like insulin that require math before each injection.

Of course, voice assistants also hang out in kitchens of people who don’t need as much help, where the devices are used as portable radios and very expensive meal timers. Whatever your reason for a digital voice assistant, there are many factors to consider before making the leap.

The good and the bad of voice assistants

There are lots of reasons to adopt a digital voice assistant, though a recent Pew survey found that about 55 percent of users stated that using their device in a hands-free mode was their primary motivation. In this way, the voice assistants create a safer and more accessible environment, even if many users aren’t taking full advantage of their capabilities.

Here's why you need a digital voice assistant right now:

  • They have skills. No matter what the device wants to call their add-on abilities and inborn talents, their expandability seems to be unlimited. You can enable a pizza-ordering skill for Amazon’s Alexa, for example, and at your command, your favorite pizza will arrive.All that’s left for you to do is tip the driver. Voice assistants are more than pizza, though. They can help you stay motivated to exercise, give you information on your bank accounts, play games with you and even update you on current events.
  • Automating your life gives you more free time. If you could have anyone else do the shopping, would you? Well, there’s a skill for that. As your digital assistant gets to know you, it can be asked to reorder things like paper towels and dog food, all you have to do is give the transaction a verbal go ahead. Your assistant can also control your smart home according to programs you can configure and change at any time.For example, you may use a trigger word like “good morning” to set the mood for breakfast. Your voice assistant then sends a command to turn on the lights in the kitchen, it preheats the oven for cinnamon rolls, plays your favorite music and follows it all up with a news update.
  • Helping You Destress. Sure, digital voice assistants can be fun, but they can also be therapeutic. Abilities that help you meditate better, breathing exercises to help you find your calm and other tools can be enabled to help lower your stress level. When your digital voice assistant says it’s time to go to the gym or take five minutes to meditate at your desk, you should listen.

Do keep in mind that the technology is still pretty new and could be vulnerable to all sorts of problems. The smart speaker in your home, in fact, has the potential to let strangers in the back door, so you need to make sure that your network is locked down hard.

Other potential drawbacks of digital assistants include:

  • Physical Limitations. Living in the Cloud may be pretty great if you’re a software program, but in the real world, people have to deal with physical objects constantly. A digital voice assistant obviously can’t do much in this respect, at least not yet. The day that Siri is able to help you move a couch down two flights of stairs is the day when she’s really made it.
  • Having a Herd. Digital voice assistants are a little bit like sheep. You need more than one to really make anything work. There’s no such thing as a centralized digital assistant yet, though those inside your smartphone come the closest due to their portable nature. Because of the herd required to get good coverage, you may need to invest heavily in devices to get the effect you want.
  • Signal Strength. Anyone living outside of a 4G or better network area may struggle to keep their digital assistant alive. High speed internet works well for smart speakers, but it has to be fairly fast and clean for best results. This limitation is leaving people in more rural areas and flyover states out of luck, at least for now.

What's the future of voice assistants for marketers?

Voice assistants present an interesting opportunity for marketers and small business owners.

As more consumers adopt them, branded skills and apps can help keep your company top of mind, plus you can work radio-style ads into free apps. Those same consumers download lots of free smartphone apps with ads, it seems like it would work as well on a smart speaker.

Your target market or target audience is getting harder to find than ever, but utilizing voice assistants in new and interesting ways could be another angle for finding your way back into their hearts and homes. Sure, there are pros and cons to these new fangled digital voice assistants, but they could very well represent a huge opportunity. Plus, there’s pizza.

Our minds work fast. Subscribe to the blog so you always stay ahead.