How smart speakers and voice assistants are changing the game

It’s been six months now since I equipped my home with three Google Home Mini devices (one on each floor). As an audiophile, my reason for getting them was definitely not for use as speakers to play music (I have proper speakers for that), but rather as a test to see how far artificial intelligence (AI) driven voice-assistants have progressed. I also wanted to observe how this can affect day-to-day behaviours in a full household of five people (I have three kids under the age of five ).  While I am fully aware of the privacy issues these devices pose, I have already addressed my thoughts on the matter in this related post.


Here are my general observations based on using these devices on a daily basis. Note: This post can easily apply to Amazon’s Echo as well.

It helps me reduce screen time and not be so reliant on my physical mobile device.

Some people make the argument that these devices are a waste of money since they already have the same assistant on their phone, which is always nearby. What I find, however, is that I purposely try to avoid having my phone on me in an effort to reduce screen time, especially when I’m around my family. Additionally, because I have kids, I need to unlock my phone before I use the assistant which is enough of a barrier for me not to use it. Before I purchased these devices, I often found myself in situations where I wanted to quickly find an answer to something but it wasn’t important enough to stop what I was doing and find my phone or the nearest laptop. With these devices, I can now comfortably issue voice commands or “google” from anywhere in the house while I’m in the middle of doing something. Recent examples:

  • Get my living room TV screen to show a picture of proper ceiling fan wiring, while I’m on a ladder installing my new ceiling fan and about to put on the cover.
  • Verify a Monopoly rule while playing the board game with my kids in the dining room (away from my phone).
  • Verify what I can replace a certain missing ingredient with for a new sauce I’m making while my hands are covered in batter
  • Play the Polish national anthem on the living room speakers after my kids ask what it sounds like mid-conversation.
  • Show the photo’s from my youngest daughter’s birth on the main living room screen after a friend asked to see them.
  • Turn up the temperature on my thermostat for the next 30 minutes
  • Set timer for 60 seconds (while spontaneously deciding to do a quick plank exercise).
  • Set a reminder to watch Poland play Senegal in the upcoming World Cup match on June 19th at 11 am.

This sort of seamless integration into day-to-day life is an obvious trade-off of privacy (voice search data going to Google) for convenience. I’m ok with that so long as I can see and control what has been recorded in Google’s Activity Settings. Not everyone will be and that is perfectly understandable.

My kids are forced to improve their pronunciation.

One of the unexpected benefits I have found is that my kids are forced to speak clearly, and now politely, for the device to understand them. At first, I thought I’d go mad listening to various attempts at “Play Peppa Pig on Family Room Home Theatre” or “Play Kids United on YouTube in Basement,” but soon they were one-timing it. Of course, I can turn off the mic any time and control how often and what they use these devices for (we have strict screen time rules), but again, that’s another topic. What I’m still unsure about is how I will feel the day my kids start asking Google questions instead of going to me or my wife first (before they can read or write sufficiently well). Right now my oldest attempts to sometimes ask Google only if I don’t know something. That order may soon switch.

It has allowed me to increase my screen real-estate while working

When working from my home office where I currently have a dual-monitor setup, I find that I no longer reserve some of my screen space to a blank google page or youtube. What I do instead is talk to my Google Home Mini and get it to either answer me directly when looking up a stat/fact, or I get it to display visual search results on my office TV screen on the wall. This seems like a trivial point, but it has allowed me to free up space on my monitor to add new productivity-enhancing workflow tools front and centre.

Why should organizations care?

Search engine optimization will diminish in importance compared to voice-assistant algorithm optimization

As more and more people use these devices, they will soon start to rely on them for basic product and service search. The voice-assistant will be a crucial touchpoint for your brand and essentially act as the middleman. Customers will no longer be exposed to search engine results pages as the AI assistant will be trusted to avoid false results and produce the best possible answer using its AI. Of course, the companies that benefit from this the most will be the ones that understand how the algorithms work and/or that form data sharing partnerships with the AI platforms directly. The fear is that this will move us even further away from letting users form their own decisions from a variety of sources. On the flip side, with digital literacy as low as it is, this could be a positive development providing that the algorithms are regularly audited from an ethical standpoint by an independent 3rd party organization of some sort (suggested reading: Weapons of Math Destruction). In the meantime, I recommend that you at least begin to move beyond SEO and test your visibility through one of these devices.

Gather voice-search data and consider creating new segments that require a unique offering

As I  have observed in my own behaviour, these devices tend to form entirely new touchpoints. For example, if I’m using my voice to search while fixing something around the house and the AI senses I’m away from any screens, the results should factor that in and only provide auditory information as opposed to starting to play a video for example. What organizations should begin doing is identifying patterns in voice search and creating either new segments (if warranted) or stages in an existing customer journey.  We already went through the same sort of transition with mobile search vs. desktop search. This is just the next step.

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