For custom integrators, Amazon Alexa and other voice control options are causing more questions to be asked these days than they are answering. Indeed, there are so many questions surrounding Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Samsung Bixby, Harman Invoke and Josh.ai that some integrators are stuck in analysis paralysis about voice control options, uses and business models.
So, a panel at the Total Tech Summit / CE Pro Summit attempted to answer some of the key queries dealers have, but the group didn’t pretend to have all the answers.
Question #1: Should You Deploy Voice Control?
“Voice control is not the elephant in the room, it is the Trojan Horse,” says Kyle Steele of Global Wave in Burbank, Calif. Steele sees voice control opening up a wide range of potential new markets, including home healthcare.
Jim Carroll, principal of the Connected Home Advisory Group, was equally as blunt, noting, “It is ridiculous for an integrator to say he is not going to get involved in voice. Voice is not a replacement for other interfaces, but it is complementary. And it has become critical.”
Carroll outlined the key functions voice control can play in the home including acting as a Personal Assistant, working as a home automation control interface, and acting as an Artificial Intelligence extension of a machine that provides users with a sense of ambient awareness (AA). Ambient Awareness is the sense or feeling that you are connected with someone else at some level of intimacy even when they are out of touch, space/time. Social media engagement is also a form of AA.
“Artificial Intelligence and Ambient Awareness are the keys [to the attraction of voice control], because voice is how your clients will connect with machines,” says Carroll. “A lot of integrators deal with the 1 percenters. Voice will broaden your business beyond just the top 1 percent.”
Gordon van Zuiden of CyberManor in Los Gatos, Calif., notes, “There are always a lot of questions for integrators about any new product category. From keypads to touchpanels, we have always sought to bring our clients a ‘friction-less environment’ when interacting with their smart home. Voice is an extension of that. For the first time ever, we have an interface (voice control) that learns from us versus us having to learn how to use it.”
All three panelists agreed that voice control should become a core competency for every integrator.
Question #2: Which Voice Control Should You Deploy?
“We are integrators,” says van Zuiden. “We should not have allegiance to anything but work to integrate the particular voice control with everything. All the voice control options have strengths and weaknesses. First, there are implications on the overall system design based upon which voice control you choose. I would argue that it doesn’t make sense to combine hardware from multiple brands of voice control. You cannot pick them all. You have to vet the product and your clients have to trust you.”
Carroll overviewed each type of voice control, noting, for example that:
- JOSH.AI is a stand-alone system but also integrates well with Control4, Crestron, Lutron, Nest and Honeywell.
- Amazon Alexa integrates well with Control4, Lutron, Plum, URC, Crestron, Elan, RTI, Savant and Josh.AI.
- Google Home integrates with Nest, SmartThings, Honeywell, Lutron, Plum and Alarm.com.
Van Zuiden discussed the importance of Natural Language Processing (NLP), noting for example, “I can’t tell my wife to say, ‘Alexa, tell the Racchio to run on Zone 4 for 5 minutes.’ All she wants to do is water the roses. I had to write down some of the command language for her. It is not natural.”
He added, “ All of the voice systems have hiccups between the connection to the cloud and initiating a series of commands. They are good at singular commands, but have trouble with sequences.”
Carroll voted for Josh.ai as his system of choice due to the fact it is targeted at the professional installation channel, does not require wake-up words, and offers product margin. (Full disclosure, Carroll noted his daughter works for the company.)
“Google and Amazon scare me. They have so much data. Josh.ai is looking out for our channel’s needs,” adds Carroll.
Question #3: How Can You Make Money with Voice?
“You won’t make any money on the transaction [of selling an individual voice control unit], but you must look at in terms of the increased engagement and how you sell around it,” admits Carroll.
The panel agreed that selling peripheral equipment around the voice control is the best option, from far-field microphones such as Echo Dots using equipment like the new Origin Acoustics Valet harnessing system.
Question #4: Is Voice a Service Opportunity or Service Nightmare?
“The last thing I want to do is be handling service request calls from my clients because the Alexa won’t talk to the Nest,” admits Jim Lackey of Natural Sound in Framingham, Mass. Lackey raised the potential question to the panelists.
While the group admitted there could be an increase in service calls, on the flip side using voice to schedule a service appointment could potentially make it easier for customers, plus make them more reliant on your service.