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Is voice control for real?

You’ve probably heard about voice-activated personal assistants like Amazon’s Echo® and Google Home®. Perhaps you even own one. They’re getting lots of buzz, so we thought we’d share our thoughts on them. The promise of voice control is intriguing, but are we “there” yet? Here’s our take.

Novelty factor:

At first blush, these devices seem really cool. You can talk to them in plain English, and they recognize your voice from a distance and in noisy surroundings. They’re pretty good at understanding commands and questions, too – at least up to a point. But they have limitations. After a while they can end up being little more than ok-sounding internet radios in many homes.

Strengths & Weaknesses:

To know if they make sense in a home automation context, it helps to understand what they do well and which things not so much. They’re very good at accessing content from the Internet – think Google and streaming media. They can also control a range of smart devices, but they’re best at simple one-step commands. And everything you want to control needs to be compatible with either Alexa® or Google Assistant®. The number of compatible devices is growing fast, but it’s still limited at this time.

What Works Now:

Your best bet for extending voice control to other home electronics is through compatible systems like Sonos®, Control4®, Crestron® or Lutron®. Sonos can extend music throughout your home with much better sound-quality than the “smart speakers” in the devices themselves. Adding Echo or Google Home to an existing home automation system eliminates the need for separate controllers on every “downstream” device. Integration of these systems isn’t exactly “seamless” yet, but it’s improving all the time.

Which to Choose:

Amazon has had about an 18-month head start in developing its system and network of compatible partners, but Google is catching up fast. Both are major players that will be around for the long term and are committed to the technology. Apple is in the space as well with Apple Home Kit® and Siri®, but its products lack the hands-free far-field voice recognition of its competitors.

Bottom line, voice control has tremendous potential for simplifying home automation tasks, but it’s early days. If you already have one of the aforementioned devices, give us a call and let’s talk about how it can integrate with your home electronics in a way that makes sense.