Have you seen the TV commercials for the gadget that lets you just shout into the air “Send flowers to Jane” and somehow flowers get ordered? Or the little girl who somehow ordered herself a giant dollhouse and four pounds of cookies from Amazon? For decades, science fiction has prepared us for a machine that seems entirely human. KITT the self-driving car, Skynet in Terminator, and the Transformers are just a few examples. Invisible robot butlers are just the beginning for us, and some seniors are integrating these ‘smart’ devices into their lives, with great success. Many things useful to caregivers, home care aides and loved ones can be operated ‘hands-free’ via these smart speakers, like music, audio-books, television, appliances, and even security cameras.
If you have a smart home, full of appliances and devices connected to the Internet of Things, you likely already have a smart hub that connects them all together. If you have a ‘C-student’ home, then a smart speaker can connect to the smart things in your home, operate them for you, and connect you to the internet. A smart speaker can follow requests or answer questions like these:
- “What is the temperature outside?”
- “What is the temperature in New York City?”
- “When was the last time I ordered laundry detergent?”
- “Who won the Chargers game this week?”
- “What time is it?”
- “Set my alarm for 6:30am.”
- “Play my Funky Christmas Jam playlist.”
- “Play the newest episode of This American Life.”
- “Call 911, I’ve tripped over the dog and I can’t get up.”
These may be things you already do on your phone, computer or tablet, but telling your invisible butler to do it instead lets you continue your current task uninterrupted. Many seniors are finding that using verbal commands is easier than fiddling with tiny phone icons, gadget buttons or laptop keys. And of course, in an emergency, a smart speaker could save a life. Now that you’re ready to jump into this brave new world, where do you start?
First, decide how you want to use the device. Do you want to play music, audio-books, and podcasts? Choose a device with its own, quality speaker if you don’t have an elaborate, WiFi-enabled speaker system. Do you want it to be an interactive to-do list, shopping list and anything-else list? An entry-level device can handle that. Do you want to connect to work tools, like email, calendar, and search engines? Then the virtual assistant software matters more than the hardware specs.
There are two main players in this market, this year, at least: Amazon’s Alexa and its Echo devices, and Google’s Google Assistant and Google Home devices. Very broadly, Alexa can help you shop, organize, and entertain yourself with most of the services you’re already using from Amazon. If you live in a Google world, then Google Assistant (which doesn’t have a human name) can operate all Google services like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Pictures, and so on. These are your two best options if you want to just plug and play without a lot of setup. Reviews abound, however, so doing your research is important.
Some of your 2017 device options are:
Amazon Echo devices with Alexa’s AI software. Say “Alexa, …” to activate.
- Echo Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, Echo Show, Echo Look
- Amazon Tap, an Alexa-enabled Bluetooth speaker
Google Home devices with Google Assistant. Say “OK, Google…” to activate.
- Google Home Mini, Google Home, Google Home Max and Google Wifi
- Chromecast Audio, Chromecast, and Chromecast Ultra
- Nest Thermostat, Nest Protect, Nest Secure Alarm System, Nest Cam, Nest Cam IQ Indoor, Nest Cam Outdoor and Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
- There are other options:
- Microsoft Windows 10 devices have Cortana
- Apple is developing Homepod
- Samsung is developing a device whose AI software is named Bixby.
- Facebook has also mentioned a device in the works, and we can only hope the AI is named Zuck
These devices aren’t perfected yet, as anyone with an iPhone knows after trying to communicate with Siri. What the commercials never show you is that after you order flowers for Jane, Joan, the acquaintance you had coffee with three years ago gets a case of flour delivered to her door. If you receive a smart speaker for this coming holiday, have fun. Just don’t ask it to open the pod bay doors.