The Stationary Smart Speaker Mirage

Fascinating article by Neil Cybart:

I don’t think stationary smart speakers represent the future of computing. Instead, companies are using smart speakers to take advantage of an awkward phase of technology in which there doesn’t seem to be any clear direction as to where things are headed. Consumers are buying cheap smart speakers powered by digital voice assistants without having any strong convictions regarding how such voice assistants should or can be used. The major takeaway from customer surveys regarding smart speakers usage is that there isn’t any clear trend. If anything, smart speakers are being used for rudimentary tasks that can just as easily be done with digital voice assistants found on smartwatches or smartphones. This environment paints a very different picture of the current health of the smart speaker market. The narrative in the press is simply too rosy and optimistic.

I’m clearly not the target market for the HomePod, primarily because I live in Canada where the HomePod won’t be for sale at launch.1 I also live in an apartment small enough that I can semi-loudly say “hey Siri” and get a response from my phone on the other side of my place. But I also think that the reason I’m not that enamoured with the HomePod or any smart speaker yet is because I’m a daily Apple Watch wearer, so many of its functions are on my wrist instead of in a tube in my kitchen.

I’m guessing that these products would appeal more — not exclusively, but more — to people who live in larger homes, of course, but also people who don’t typically wear a smartwatch — Apple’s or otherwise.2 I also wonder if smart speakers are an intermediate product between a more traditional computer-user relationship and something that’s more environmental or spatial. If it is, I’d rather throw my hat in with a company that has a strict commitment to user privacy, rather than companies that serve up targeted advertising.

  1. And, if the rollout of Apple News is anything to go by, several years after launch. ↥︎

  2. The HomePod is only $20 more expensive in the U.S. than a Series 3 Apple Watch. ↥︎