Voice assistants, smart speakers and the smart home were key themes at Futuresource Consulting’s Audio Collaborative event, which took place in London on 8th November. In his opening keynote, Amazon’s Theunis Scheepers, Country Manager for Alexa Voice Services kicked off the conference by sharing his viewpoint on why voice is enthusing customers, where the technology is heading, and some of the new developments that will make it happen.
Referencing Futuresource data, he told the audience that, since 2017, there’s been a step up in consumer engagement with smart speakers, with 87 million smart home devices in use today, expanding out to 388 million in five years.
“Today, 46% of adults use voice assistants in the US,” said Scheepers. “70% of people bought their smart speaker this year and it's the first one they've bought. The growth curve is incredible. 98% believe they will own five or more devices in their lifetime.
“And they are interested in the personality of the device too. Alexa has told jokes, a lot of them. Over 100 million jokes have been told to users this year. Millions of happy birthday songs have been sung. We didn't think this personality aspect would be so strong and it wasn’t a key use case when we launched. The benefit of Alexa living in the cloud is that you can improve it over time. And that's exactly what's happened. Alexa's personality has evolved.”
When it comes to Alexa entering new countries, Scheepers told the conference that people may think it's about speech recognition and understanding, but he felt that it is much more about Alexa being relevant in that country. “A good example of this is Japan. We had to give Alexa a favourite manga comic and a favourite anime cartoon, a favourite sumo wrestler too. Alexa needs to know that children's day is a public holiday. It’s now more about relevance and less about the technical processes of voice recognition. With that in mind, we are now in 10 countries, with Brazil coming soon.
“Identifying who is speaking is also crucial. When I ask Alexa to ‘call Mum’, it needs to know that's my mum, not my wife's mum or my teenage daughter’s mum. These are key nuances that need to be considered and acted upon. “One of the biggest takeaways in the last four years is how consumers want to use the smart home. Consumers will be able to walk into the house and the audio and the smart experience will follow them as they move through the building. We are working with manufacturers of appliances, light fittings and the lights themselves and many other areas of the home.”
According to Scheepers, a key area of audio that Amazon has been focusing is a multiroom platform that partners can engage with. That means a partner brand doesn't need its own multiroom solution, they can use the Alexa multi-room solution and their products become part of that ecosystem.
“Take that a step further,” said Scheepers, “and rather than embedding microphones in the product, you can take part in that integrated multiroom experience. This can also be extended into Bluetooth devices and is well-suited for headphones.”
Concluding his keynote, Scheepers told the audience that they are focused on bringing Alexa to everywhere. “Whether that's on the road, walking around with your headphones, in the car, at home or in the office. It's not just about creating that single experience, it's about creating a continuity. The sky is the limit.”
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