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Trends & Innovations

The 5 challenges faced by every Smart Home manufacturer when adding voice

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Snips Team

The smart home appliance market is booming. According to a recent report by BCG, the adoption of smart home devices in the US will achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42% between 2017 and 2022, as consumers continue to embrace a wide variety of devices. The penetration of smart speakers has played an important role in this rapid adoption, with the living room and kitchen dominating as the most popular places to install smart speakers at home.   

BCG anticipates that the demand for voice assistants will continue to grow rapidly over the next three to five years as AI capabilities mature. A virtuous cycle helps drive this growth, as the more smart home gadgets connect to a voice gateway, the more popular will be both voice interaction and the tools they enable.

As businesses prepare for the voice revolution in the home, we’ve rounded up the most difficult challenges ahead.

1. Adding a voice assistant to a hardware device is a complex procedure. 

Voice is the most natural human-machine interface: it’s intuitive, promotes accessibility, and doesn’t require knowing the ins and outs of a product in order to use. Device manufacturers, however, have to solve a number of very complex tasks to be able to offer their users voice experiences. Understanding their use case, designing the voice assistant, choosing an audio front-end partner, selecting the right hardware (MCU or MPU) that compliments the device without exploding your bill of materials (BOM) – these are but a few of the considerations.

2. Dependence on cloud providers compromises device durability, brand independence, and sustainable pricing.

Device manufacturers ideally want to offer high quality and reliable products that will last a long time. However, relying on the cloud means device manufacturers will never truly own their devices. This is because at any moment, cloud providers could change the rules, requiring updates (or worse) in order for voice-enabled devices to continue to function in the same way. This challenge becomes even more pressing when we think of brand independence: a device manufacturer partnering with a Big Tech cloud provider risks giving away its business to the cloud provider. Lastly, high price sensitivity in the home appliance market means device manufacturers are forced to budget unlimited queries in their BoM.  

home appliances voice controlled

3. In-home products require special attention to end user data privacy. 

The ever-expanding list of digital data being catalogued and collected with every consumer click and touch requires an understanding of how voice data is different. After all, voice is not just any kind of data. It’s a biometric parameter that can be used to identify a person, like a retina scan or fingerprint. In addition, voice is even more unique because it can reveal information about the individual’s mood and state of mind.

Devices like smart speakers with voice assistants are used in intimate environments. It is therefore important for a manufacturer to ensure the highest level of privacy and the proper treatment of voice data. Snips has previously proven that there are no true technical claims to support the collection of voice data to “improve performance”. Let’s add that on-device processing eliminates the need to send voice data and queries to the cloud, and keeps the data right on the device with which the user interacts.

4. The end-user installation process and subsequent customer experience drives device adoption.

Creating an amazing and beautiful product is not enough, the real challenge is to create a product that users actually need. But “the home is becoming more complex faster than the average homeowner can keep up with,” as Niccolo de Masi, chief innovation officer at Resideo, states. Consumers are still confused, frustrated, and distrustful of their smart home devices, and the industry is still demanding too much from consumers given the disparate devices that need to be installed.  “As an industry, we’re giving all the building blocks for this notion of a smart home, right? We sell you a thermostat, we sell you a camera, we sell you smart speakers, smart display, whatever it might be,” says Rishi Chandra, Products Lead at Google Nest, “but then we ask the consumer to actually build the house.”

Not only are there too many disparate products, but they neither communicate with each other nor do they understand context. Transforming a customer into an advocate requires a flawless customer experience and a really useful product or service. Smart home devices should know what you like and where you are so they can respond to you in the appropriate place. Voice-activated home appliances are most convincing when they are designed to envision the end-user experience. Imagine using the power of voice when you have too many things in your hands to open a door, or to detect and alert you to something that’s about to burn in your oven. We don’t need more devices that are “impatient”, constantly demanding attention or action. 

5. Time to market is top-of-mind for device manufacturers.

Product innovation is a lengthy process requiring future-forward insights, strategic buy-in, and shear manpower to execute. Add to that the need for speed to beat competitors to market with a game-changing product, and you’ll start to see how manufacturers approach product launches. However, moving quickly with voice integration is hard since it’s still a new interaction flow, and the blowback from poorly designed voice products can be deadly. It’s very easy for consumers to quickly find flaws with a voice-first appliance, especially with high expectations of being able to talk naturally to a device that is designed to act. Rapid go-to-market voice solutions that have been tested and customized to various devices can speed up the innovation process for manufacturers. 

How will manufacturers overcome these challenges?

We developed Snips for Home Appliance to help device manufacturers overcome these major challenges. Snips for Home Appliances is offline, lightweight, and ensures Privacy by Design.

You can costumize the solution to targeted voice commands or full natural language. And it can be used with any smart home appliance across many types of hardware, from MCU to MPU. With Snips for Home Appliances, brands and OEMs benefit from a speedy go-to-market launch, a best-in-class voice platform, and voice pairing for their range of manufactured appliances with access to the Snips Partner Ecosystem.

See a preview of the solution we presented at IFA Berlin 2019: