Selling Voice Control? Integrators Express 10 Concerns at HTSA Conference

Panelists and HSTA members discuss the implications of voice control to the home systems industry.

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Voice control platforms like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Google Home are taking the smart home industry by storm.

Home loudspeakers, light fixtures, thermostats and, more recently, complete home automation systems from Crestron and Control4 are integrating the technology to provide consumers with a hand-free mode of managing the electronic devices in their homes … and potentially some profit potential for custom integrators.

As appealing as voice control is to consumers, based on reactions of HTSA Fall Conference attendees last week in Chicago to the panel discussion “The Emergence of Voice Control in the CI Market,” voice control technology may be a potential game changer, but for now, integrators are choosing to proceed with caution and still harbor some skepticism about the benefits of the technology to their business and its value to their clientele.

Here are the top 10 (in no particular order) concerns that HTSA members voiced during the presentation and afterwards during one-on-one interviews with CE Pro:

1. It’s Not Completely Natural … Yet

The way you issue voice commands to voice-enabled products and systems probably isn’t the way you normally speak. Users need to speak in a particular pattern and phrase their wishes perfectly in order for the technology to understand what they want.

For example, you can’t just say “turn on the lights” and expect the lights in the room in which you are standing to activate. Rather, you’ll need to utter “Alexa, turn on the family room lights,” to make things happen.

2. Few Home Control Systems Have It … For Now

Today, the most popular way to incorporate voice control into a home is to buy and install a single product with the technology built-in—a light bulb or a loudspeaker, for instance.

Voice control Nirvana—when you shout out “I’m home” and the entire environment changes at once (lights, shades, music, temperature, etc.) can only happen with the help of a voice-enabled home control system. These are just starting to hit the market from companies including Lutron, Crestron and Control4.

3. It’s Impractical for Some Purposes

Does it really make sense for your customers to banter with their homes non-stop for every single alteration deemed necessary? Probably not.

Think about which situations make sense for voice control, and suggest that they incorporate it there. For example, when your hands are busy cooking a meal or tinkering with the engine of a car, these are prime times to use your voice to adjust the lights, turn up the music, and so on.

Other times, it might be more convenient to simply grab the remote control.

4. It’s a Security Risk

This can’t be ignored. Voice-enabled products tend to also be Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which means they’re connected to the Internet, which means … well, you get the picture.

You can be sure manufacturers are aware of the risks and are taking all the necessary protective measures. Integrators can help ensure that voice-enabled network is secure from outside influences, too.

Amazon Echo ‘always listening’ feature worries some security experts.

5. It Shouldn’t Replace Your Remote

Voice should be thought of as a complement to other home control interfaces—remote controls, touchpanels, and mobile apps—not a replacement.

There will be applications for voice, like activating the lights when your clients walk into the house holding bags of groceries, and applications for traditional interfaces, like when they want to adjust the volume of a music system or unlock the smart lock on the front door.

“It’s just one more tool in our toolbox,” says Dan Paulson of Paulsons Audio & Video, Framingham Hills, Mich.

6. It’s a DIY Solution … So Far

Most voice-enabled devices so far have been products intended for homeowners to install and configure themselves. This will likely hold true for a while, but recently, manufacturers of professionally installed system have integrated the technology into their offerings. This opens the door for integrators.

And remember, even if DIYers set up their own Alexa Echo devices, integrators should still pursue them as clients by offering products and services to enhance the performance, scope and usefulness of the technology.

Marketing your expertise to DIYers who want to push the limits of their systems was noted by HTSA members at the conference as critical to the livelihood of your business. This new but important demographic was referred to as “Do It With Me” consumers. 

7. Not Everything Can Hear You … Nor Should It

The more devices that are controlled by voice commands, the more phrases your customers will need to remember.

At a certain point, you may need to provide them with a cheat sheet, or recommend that they choose only a select few products to shout at.

8. It’s Not Mainstream

Voice control in the home is so new that the market today is made up largely of early adopters. Based on its cool factor, though, it’s headed mainstream, so now is the time to incorporate it into your showroom demonstrations and get intimate with the technology. 

Paulson shared that his company has set up the homes of three of its existing clients for free with an Amazon Echo-based system purely for beta testing and feedback. 

“We want to learn what works and what doesn’t; things they like about it and don’t like about it so we can better serve future customers,” says Paulson.

9. It’s a Single-Room Solution … But That Will Change

Today, most solutions can handle the control of devices within a single room, given the limited range of the listening device’s built-in microphone. But that’s bound to change as manufacturers are already developing ways to extend voice control to multiple rooms.

10. It’s Not Perfect … But Always Improving

Expect voice control in the home to go through some growing pains, just as any new technology would. There will be misunderstood commands, hiccups in the way the systems respond and all sorts of snafus to experience in these first generation solutions.

Software and hardware updates will ensue, as consumers become increasingly more comfortable with the talking to their smart homes.

And as the technology shakes out and grows legs, integrators will have an opportunity to capitalize on the trend by offering consumers one more way to control their homes.

About the Author

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Lisa Montgomery:

Lisa Montgomery has been a member of the CE Pro and Electronic House editorial teams for nearly 20 years; most of that time as the Editor of Electronic House. With a knack for explaining complex high-tech topics in terms that average consumers can understand, her style of writing resonates with people who are interested in adding electronic systems to their homes, but are unsure of the steps involved and the solutions available. From basic lighting control systems to full-blown automation systems, Lisa understands the home electronics market well, and is able to point consumers in the right direction on their quest for a smarter, more convenient, efficient and enjoyable home.

Over the years, she has developed close relationships with key manufacturers and seasoned custom electronics professionals, giving her a keen sense of what home technologies are hot now and what is on the horizon. She shares this wisdom regularly through feature stories, product roundups, case studies technology spotlights and comprehensive guides and books.

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