Smart Audio’s Biggest Hurdle

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There’s an explosion of people who have Smart Speakers. 

Those that don’t have smart speakers, are still using smart audio if they’re navigating their smartphones by voice, or if they have a connected appliance that is voice enabled. The data doesn’t lie. These devices (mainly, Alexa, Google Home, Sonos and Bose) are bound to be the big holiday gifts this coming season. Right now, users ask these devices questions, set timers, have it play their music, and the more sophisticated users are able to control their home automation using their voice through their smart speakers. 

Amazing technology. Many hurdles. 

What’s most fascinating about this Smart Audio revolution is how adoption is not this technology’s true challenge. This is unique. Most innovation faces the tough hurdle of getting user adoption. Not the case for smart speakers. The real hurdle lies in the reality that even with thousands of voice skills (or apps), there is a lack of content. It’s understandable. You ask these smart speakers anything. Of course, when you ask it anything, something has to be there that is relevant. That’s the business opportunity, right there: be the content that people are asking for. Seems obvious enough. Looking at Google’s successful business model, we’ve seen this before. Prior to Google’s dominance, the search engine business looked very much like the smart audio business of the day. Tons of great technology and people searching for content that is relevant for them, but without the content, the user experience wanes. Search/Google was very much like this. It took years before we hit peak search. A place where every search – as obscure as we might think – now generates pages of relevant results. Even though search isn’t perfect, it is  damn near close to it.

It’s about the content?

Relevant content that resonates with the user is going to help push smart speakers to the next level. The additional ability for this interactive voice to interact with the consumer is going to make for an amazing experience. We’re not there yet. So, content must be the biggest hurdle for smart audio to succeed and, in turn, for smart speakers, smartphones and connected appliances to grow? Nope. That’s not the biggest hurdle. It’s a real hurdle. Its a big one, but it’s not the biggest. The biggest hurdle for smart audio today is getting something/anything out of the box to work on command. Right now, in order to initiate a voice skill, you can’t just ask your Alexa to play it. Today, you have to go to the Alexa app, find the voice skill, add it, and then you can initiate it from voice on your device. That’s a bad user experience. Amazon knows better. But, this is the current user experience and customer journey. It’s going to change. In the near/immediate future, these many extra steps will be removed, and the challenge of getting a voice skill rolling will be resolved and relegated back to the smart appliance itself (without the need for the smartphone) – as it should be.

It’s not there yet.

The good news is that people are using their smart speakers. Consumers want these devices to do (and know) more. It’s coming. It’s happening fast. And, like everything else, users are moving (perhaps) quicker than the technology can adapt. Why is this important? As a brand, it’s important to know more than, “voice is important,” or “everyone has a smart speaker, so what’s our plan?. It’s equally important to know the current limitations of smart audio. The biggest hurdle today is a technical one. The challenges (frustrations and all) that consumers will have to hop through to get across the finish line is real, but it’s a short-term pain… and that’s par for the course. 

It’s not a valid reason to not be present. It’s a reason to learn, adapt and strategize about what’s next… or what’s now.