Video Kills the Telephone Call. The proliferation of smart speakers has continued unabated nearly since their inception, but recently we’ve seen a new feature taking center stage on these do-it-all devices – video.
Amazon kicked off the trend, as it often does, with its Echo Show, a variant of the popular Amazon Echo series that featured a forward-facing camera and a tablet-like touchscreen attached to a smart speaker base. It followed up that effort with its reimagining of the alarm clock, the Echo Spot, a smaller orb-shaped smart speaker that includes a circular touchscreen face and similarly positioned camera.
Google soon followed suit, adding the Google Home Hub, an upgrade of its Google Home smart speaker that, like the Show, featured a touchscreen tablet. Now Facebook has gotten in on the action with the release of Portal, a smart speaker/touchscreen, powered by Amazon’s A.I. assistant Alexa, with a strong focus on video-calling.
While the merits of video functionality are readily apparent for smart speakers – users can follow recipes with hands-free commands, check the weather or map routes, or just catch up on shows while multi-tasking around the house – there seems to be a real push for these video-equipped hubs to replace the phone as the communication device of choice in homes.
For Facebook Portal, this is expressly the case, with all other smart speaker features coming almost as afterthoughts to its prime purpose of visual-based communications. So committed to the cause of video chatting is the Portal that the Portal+ device can recognize users as they move and automatically rotate to follow them, allowing chat participants to remain on screen as they move from kitchen to couch.
While Apple has not announced plans for a video element for its HomePod, the company has recently upgraded the capabilities of its iOS-based video chatting app, FaceTime, allowing users to communicate with up to 32 people on a call at one time.
It remains to be seen if a rise in video communication-capable devices leads to a growth in video-chatting – consumers often don’t use products in the ways manufacturers intended. But even if an explosion of video-equipped smart speakers doesn’t lead to a golden age of people looking each other in the eye while communicating, at least everyone will be able to watch “The Great British Bake-Off” while making breakfast.
Smart Services. Throughout their history, smart homes have been defined by the intelligent devices they house. Voice-controlled lighting, thermostats that automatically adjust with the weather, coffee pots that begin brewing when they recognize you’re awake – products that save labor, money or time via automation and connectivity.
But what about those tasks for which no single device will suffice? The chores – laundry, grocery shopping, home maintenance – that, short of a robotic butler, will require some manual labor on the part of the homeowner?
Brace for the rise of smart services – automated fulfillment of the daily tasks that make an uninterrupted life possible.
“Replenishment” is one area where these smart services are already established, and we should expect to see further growth. Beyond services like Peapod, you may have noticed that nearly every grocery chain of substantial size is offering some manner of automated ordering – and reordering – and delivery, either via an app or website. This process allows customers with a good grasp of their consumption habits to ensure that their homes are never out of their favorite foods, with specific items in specific quantities being automatically delivered at regular intervals.
But expect producers to take thinking even further out of the process. Leveraging technologies like Amazon Dash, developers will start programming the household devices to recognize when they are running low on supply and automatically reorder the goods. Like WePlenish, a smart coffee pod container that keeps track of inventory levels and automatically orders more java when needed, so you never have to experience a caffeine-less existence. Will we see the refrigerator that automatically orders tomatoes? Or the soap dispenser that refills itself? The possibilities are endless – and likely, as automated reordering is an activity manufacturers can firmly get behind.
Task Oriented. But what about the tasks that keep your house running that require some measure of manual labor, like cleaning and maintenance? Here, too, we should expect to see app- and device-based solutions that call in reinforcements with some measure of regular automation when the chores need to get done. Like Cleanly, an app that allows users to schedule pickup and drop-off of their laundry, fresh and folded, within 24 hours. The latest version of certain home standards, like washers and dryers, can run their own diagnostic programs, identifying errors when they arise – how long before these machines can request their own maintenance when need? How long before a pool probe can send out a call when it needs cleaning? Or gutters can identify when they need to cleared?
In addition to the rise of these automated services, we should expect to see growth of the technologies that help facilitate them. Technologies like Ring video doorbells or August smart locks, which can allow homeowners to identify who is at their door – like the Cleanly delivery person – and grant them temporary access to your abode.
That is if a human even delivers your goods anymore.
Delivery Improvements. Walmart recently announced a pilot programwith Ford and Postmates to examine the automated delivery of groceries via autonomous self-driving vehicles. Likewise, grocery chain Kroger announced a partnershipwith Nuro to tackle the most challenging task of ordering online, “last-mile delivery” – that is, getting the requested goods from the store to the customer’s home, a feat they also hope to accomplish with robotic drivers.
The result of the endless automation of anything approaching “difficult” should enable individuals to lead lives unhampered in pursuit of their goals – be it increased productivity in matters personal or professional, or the much more noble pursuit of binge-watching Netflix while moving as little as possible.