I want a smart home personal assistant, but not from Amazon

jambox

I was just sitting on my couch with my notebook in my lap, when I heard an unexpected, but familiar voice: “Jambox is ready to connect”. Familiar, because this one of the typical spoken comments my Jambox bluetooth loudspeaker is capable of. Unexpected, because I had not done anything at that moment to turn Jambox into pairing mode. For a second I was surprised, then I reminded myself of that Jawbone’s relatively popular bluetooth loudspeaker occasionally develops a life of its own. And shortly after it hit me: I want that. I want a smart speaker that interacts with me when sitting at my couch, kitchen table or elsewhere in my apartment.

I do not use Siri on my iOS devices because I somehow find it easier to navigate with taps and swipes. But in that very moment when the Jambox on its own initiative was informing me about its current status, I realized how much value a smart assistant would have during those hours I spend time at home. An intelligent personal assistant, “living” inside a dedicated loudspeaker device placed in one’s apartment or office, that one can ask about the weather, that can play back music, news or podcasts or that can tell how much time one has until the next bus or train arrives – that would be really something.

The idea I’m describing has actually been realized by Amazon. At the end of last year the e-commerce giant launched its smart speaker Amazon Echo, a product that comes close to my desired device. The problem is that Echo is primarily built around Amazon services, which I do not use too much. Also, I do not feel comfortable with the idea of having one of the major Internet companies constantly listening into my home through such a device. The smart assistant would need such ambient listening capabilities, because I want to be able to control it with my voice.

But for privacy and integrity reasons I would prefer a device by a company that is not in the business of data collection. Obviously it is quite a challenge for a startup or a company like Jawbone or Sonos to create such a product. Advanced language recognition technology and artificial intelligence capabilities are needed in order to deliver a great user experience. On the other hand, many of the necessary elements such as open APIs to access information from the web are available, and building a solid hardware speaker is not rocket science anymore. So I am confident this could be achieved even by smaller, newer players.

Another likely candidate for that kind of device would be Apple. Apple has Siri, it has the knowledge, experience and resources to create a gorgeous looking and well-working device, and it does not have data collection and advertising as its core revenue model. In fact, Apple lately has been putting more emphasis on privacy and security. A “Siri box” (more likely called “New Apple TV” or something like that) would fit well into Apples “HomeKit”-Smart Home strategy as well.

I am convinced that in five years, many of us will be having regular interactions with our personal smart assistants while in the comfort of our homes. In theory, no other hardware than our smartphones would be needed. But I believe that inside the places we live, a dedicated device, addressable through loudspeakers with built-in microphones placed in each room (Sonos-style), would be a more suitable solution. At least to me, Amazon or Google have a disadvantage in this area due to a lack of trust. But if there would be a startup selling a well-functioning smart assistant (as single product or part of a bigger smart home platform), or if Apple would bring Siri into the home, I seriously would consider getting one. Would you?

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