Do smart speakers go down in history as technology failures?

Listening to music, switching on lights, asking about the weather: smart speakers with voice assistants are practical. However, the big breakthrough has not yet happened.

Smart speakers also research the Internet on command, read out the weather report or the news. They can also function as a control center for other networked devices such as lights, music or heating. Often installed in a spherical or conical shape, smart speakers are very unobtrusive in their own four walls and do not even need a power connection to function in battery mode.

Smart speakers are still relatively new. Amazon only launched its Echo in 2016. Other manufacturers like Google and Apple followed suit.

Voice control only makes sense for certain areas

But as easy as it is to conduct the smart speakers, the technology also quickly reaches its limits in practice.

“Manufacturers have had to recognize that smart speakers are very practical for individual functional areas, but they are not universal assistants,” says Rainer Müller of the trade magazine “connect.” “Searching the Web or maintaining shopping lists is less useful with purely acoustic interaction than one might initially think,” he says.

Much more helpful and popular is the use of smart speakers for smart home applications. “Controlling networked lamps, blinds, heating thermostats or vacuum robots on demand is very convenient,” says Müller. And voice assistants are also frequently used to control music.

Smart speakers make many skeptical

“There is a large group of consumers who are very skeptical about smart speakers, which is likely to have something to do with data protection,” says Müller. In addition, he says, many consumers do not see any utility value in the networked boxes for themselves.

But a lack of trust in the technology can also lead to rejection, for example when smart speakers are reported to have activated themselves.

However, Müller considers such concerns to be hardly justified. The devices are normally always on reception and wait for the activation word, and only then does the recording start, he says: “Unintentional activation shouldn’t be a big problem in practice.” In the case of more complex questions, however, it could be that the voice assistant does not provide a result.

Great enthusiasm at first – but what’s next?

Enthusiasm for smart speakers seems to have cooled somewhat after initial euphoria. According to figures from the industry association gfu Consumer & Home Electronics, sales in the smart audio sector are declining. “After a peak of 1.9 million devices sold in 2019, there were only around 1.5 million in 2020 and 2021,” says Roland Stehle from gfu.

The reasons for this are complex and, in addition to a general saturation, could also be related to the overall very fragmented smarthome market, according to Stehle. There is still no uniform standard, which makes it difficult for end users to find their way around.

Also interesting: What do the ring colors mean for the Amazon Echo?

Conclusion: Have smart speakers failed?

Smart speakers have never managed to take the next big step in development. Apps haven’t really caught on, and their use just doesn’t seem all that contemporary. As controls in the smart home, the devices have their justification. As entertainment devices, however, they have failed in our opinion. “Alexa, play song XY” is not enough for us.