Allowing users hand-free music streaming, intelligent personal assistants, and a variety of supported apps in a compact cylinder the size of a pint glass, the smart speaker doesn’t herald in new technology so much as repackage existing ones.
But by bridging the hardware of the common living room speaker with software advancements in online streaming and artificial intelligence, the smart speaker has deftly positioned itself as an essential home purchase, poised to bring in a wave of connectivity akin to the first home telephones. And with tens of millions of such devices reported to ship in 2017, it’s unsurprising that the smart speaker has captured the imagination of the biggest names in tech…
The one that started it all. Amazon released its flagship Echo speaker in late 2016, and as such holds a majority share of the market. Its AI assistant, Alexa, rather than simply responding to a set range of voice commands, can actually learn from your speech patterns to improve its voice recognition. The Echo is one product that undoubtedly improves with use.
Amazon Echo Show
The speaker with a screen. Considering that most Echos are housed in the kitchen (rather than the living room, as most of its advertising suggests), having a voice-activated tablet to view recipes, make calls, and stream live-feeds of other rooms may prove invaluable to busy parents or ferocious multi-taskers. Currently only available in the US.
Apple’s upscale offering made the shrewd move of not competing with Amazon’s or Google’s price range, charging a higher $350 for a correspondingly higher-specification device. In-house AI Siri is rumoured to be lagging behind the brain-smarts of Alexa, but with 7 tweeters in the product’s base and a 4-inch woofer, this is still your best bet for a smart speaker that prioritises audio quality. The HomePod’s sensors can even optimise audio output depending on the size of the room around it.
Synchronised with – you guessed it – Google’s search engine, this device offers the most helpful results for your voice commands, even if you have to begin each question with the clumsy “OK Google”. Reportedly modelled on the shape of a candle or wine glass, available in customisable colours, and built with a smooth, touch-capacitive display, there’s a clear effort to integrate with the rest of your stylish decor.