Let’s talk about voice activation

Voice activation is firmly embedded in your phone, and now it’s moving into your home. Are you ready to live together?

The players to date

For Android, users have been saying “OK, Google”. For Apple, users have been interacting with Siri as their voice companion. Voice activation has been around for a while now. Since Windows 10, Cortana has taken up residence on your desktop but how many users have really grasped this new medium of interacting with your technology?. Even Amazon Echo (Alexa) has started listening to your commands in the home with limited functionality.  Now, Google has just released their take on voice activation in the home with the appropriately named ‘Google Home‘. Let’s see where it fits in and how useful it will be.

Why talk?

Voice activation
Hello Dave!

Whether driving, running or just a reluctance to use the miniature, fiddly, phone keyboard, being able to talk to your phone and request information really has come of age. Even with different languages and dialects it works well.

Once you become familiar with common tasks like typing long messages, asking for the weather tomorrow, having the phone read your calendar to you, or just simply tell you the time, interaction via voice becomes quite a useful feature.

If you have mastered this with your phone, you have to wonder where to next? Anyone who saw the recent movie ‘Her‘, or even the classic ‘2001 – Space Odyssey‘ will be able to see (or hear) where we are heading with all this.

Why type when you can simply talk?. If your PC or smart phone is not in the same room, a simple task becomes inconvenient. So why not use this for tasks around the house that you would normally use the PC for?

Home automation

Music plays a large part in my weekend. I’ve  ditched my unsightly CD collection some time ago and now just stream Spotify or Internet Radio. To control this I generally pick up my phone or from the PC but being able to speak commands simplifies things to the point of being lazy. But hey, that’s automation. A bit like the remote control for the TV rather than getting off the sofa to change channel. Seems overkill but you wouldn’t want it any other way now.

Let’s take this a step further. Rather than requesting information, what other tasks can we perform? This is where other apps can integrate with the listening device. Take Spotify for instance, we can ask the device to send control commands to Spotify, so the device interprets your voice, then sends the required command to another app either on your phone or network. In the case of Spotify, I could ask Alexa to “Play any Coldplay Album through Spotify”, and the device would respond with music. Getting more into the extended functionality, you can wire up any electrical device to a WeMo switch and voice activate almost anything that is plugged into it, be it a coffee machine, heater or fan in any room in the house.

Beyond the home

If we create integration with internet websites from these voice activated devices (which they already have access to) it won’t be long before we can use voice to search and book a ticket to a concert, book a flight, or buy the preset weekly shopping and have it delivered. The possibilities are endless once vendors catch up with this type of integration.

You can then add macros to the task list which run a series of preset tasks under one single instruction. “Ok Google, perform my morning routine” at which point the heating comes on along with the coffee machine, then the radio comes on in two rooms followed by the car starting and the garage door opening 30 minutes later. Sci-Fi or already here?

So which system?

As with any good product there’s a marketing plan attached, and this means trying to ensure the customer stays with your brand. Depending on your allegiance to a particular brand, it may be worth picking a side and building up your home automation accordingly to ensure all devices play nicely together. It would be too much to think that one day you come home and find Cortana and Alexa having a social chat.


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