The Obvious Prediction For CES This Year = Smart Audio

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I’ve never been to CES. I’ve never been to SXSW.

I follow what’s happening at both of these major events, but they have always happened when I was booked to be somewhere else. This year, CES fell way too close to family vacation (priorities, people ;). If you happen to be attending CES this year, please make an effort to attend Tom Webster’s presentation: New Habit: Smart Speakers & A Voice-Activated Life. It’s happening today at 10:15 am, (LVCC – North Hall – N257). Here’s the description of the event: “Smart speakers change how people operate their daily lives: Users create new routines for media consumption – often screen-less – and embrace features that make life more efficient. NPR and Edison Research explain consumer behavior today and reveal new post-holiday ownership estimates.” It’s not just that Tom is a great friend. It’s not just because Tom usually has the freshest and most compelling research from the smart audio world. It’s not just because Tom is a great, engaging and entertaining presenter. It’s not just because Tom is co-presenting with Meg Goldthwaite (Chief Marketing Officer at NPR). It’s for all of those reasons plus the reality that smart audio will be the biggest news coming out of CES this year.

What does CES buzz have to do with business today?

In this case, everything. Literally everything. Watch and see just how many new technologies get announced that are Alexa-enabled or how aggressive Google will be with their own, Google Assistant technology. We’re bound to see an endless parade of devices like smart speakers, lighting, plugs, kitchen appliances, headsets (from headphones to glasses) and beyond that all have smart audio embedded within. Basically, everything that gets plugged into a wall (or is wireless) will have some kind of smart audio built into it. Beyond that, we have seen the data: more than one hundred million Alexa devices have been sold to date (and the analyst are saying that the total number by the end of 2019 could be close to 250 million). What we have is a technology that is, basically, mainstream with a market that is adopting it quicker than we have ever seen from any other technology before it.

The adoption is happening much faster than anyone ever expected it.

Adoption is one thing. Being mainstream is another. Now, what smart audio really needs is for people to get beyond the one-and-done (use it for a bit, and only for a few things then wane) over to it being a critical part of how we live, work and operate with technology (which seems to be the direction that it should be flowing towards). What (should) happen today (and beyond) at CES is a demonstration from both Google and Amazon that smart audio is not a one (or five trick) pony. Both brands (and Apple and Samsung can’t be dismissed in the smart audio space – plus where is Microsoft in all of this?) need to demonstrate that the depth and breadth of new capabilities and uses that smart audio can (and will) provide consumers going forward will be boundless. Amazon and Google also need to address the myriad of privacy and security concerns that people have about these devices constantly “listening” in on their lives. What is being recorded? What is being done with this data? How can consumers have all of the control over their data versus being a victim to it?

What the message needs to be…

For smart audio to take centre stage at CES this week, and in the lives of consumers beyond this week, is the message that smart audio is bigger, better, more intuitive and a much better user experience than smartphones. Bold? Maybe. But, it’s true: consumers will use smart audio in the near-future much more than they currently need smartphones today. There is much room for growth and adoption in the smart audio space. The voice skills and content space is still (for the most part) the Wild West. Which keeps many waiting to see how it becomes more civilized, but it also has many more brands fighting to own the rich real estate that smart audio is sure to become.

If you’re still on the fence, go and listen to Tom Webster today. You will see (and hear) the future. That future is smart audio.