Third-party Device Integrations with Voice Assistants: What This Means for Third Parties

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Over 40% of US consumers now own smart speakers according to a recent study, totaling nearly 120 million devices in use since the beginning of 2019.  These devices are helping usher in the era of the Smart Home faster than any other device, due in large part to the rise of voice assistants and their ability to integrate with, command, and control thousands of other 3rd party smart home devices.  If you’re building a connected device, you recognize voice assistant (VA) support as table stakes for success in the market. But what’s in it for you?  Are voice assistants a positive development for makers of other Smart Home devices or do they represent a growing challenge?  What does the proliferation of voice assistants really mean for smart home device and service companies?

This post covers the good, the bad, and the ugly impacts of voice assistants on 3rd party connected home device makers.

The Good

Voice Assistants represent their own channel for acquisition of smart home devices, with Google and Alexa together supporting “works with” capability for most connected devices on the market. While it’s still not well defined how to monetize voice assistants as sales channels, customers who own VAs are learning to expect the smart devices they bring home to work with them.  Customers are also recognizing that many of the pedestrian home goods they bought in the past like light bulbs, power strips, and air filters can be smarter due to successful awareness campaigns from leading voice assistant companies.  In this way, a voice assistant in the home represents a magnet for other smart home technology and helps increase the likelihood of additional smart home sales. By supporting voice assistant skills for your device or service you opt-in to this trend and can attract sales more effectively than connected devices that don’t participate in smart home ecosystems.  Your device also has an opportunity to become stickier as it adds value to your customer’s daily routine through assistant-channeled skills and services. As a result, voice assistants seem to be having a very positive financial impact on the entire market.

The Bad

Voice Assistants can drive acquisition of additional smart home devices, but is the draw as meaningful as the relationship?

The voice assistant market has coalesced around the top 2 providers, and each is competing against the other for market and mind share.  Similar to the mobile market, each provider is developing differentiators at a rapid pace, pushing hard to define the space these devices will fill in our lives for years to come.  They have also developed walled-garden strategies to varying degrees - that might sound strange given that there are tens of thousands of devices supported across the platforms.  The fact is, your device or service can participate in the voice assistant ecosystem, but this is, for the most part, a one-sided transaction. Building VA skill support means giving VA providers device state and control of your customer’s devices (increasingly in real time) without getting visibility to the initiating request, and without the opportunity for contextual feedback.  Voice assistants know exactly what your customer’s request was, but that request is effectively contextually commoditized by the time it reaches your cloud for processing.

Another challenge with voice assistants as a channel is that strategic shifts in their own roadmap and market direction can have a critical impact on yours.  IoT is still the wild west today and even the big players end up second-guessing their strategy in the face of market challenges or big innovations. This can sometimes mean a shift away from support for critical features on which your device or service rely.  These types of changes can come unannounced until they’re a new reality for your business. In some cases, security and privacy is the guise under which these decisions are made. Security and privacy must always be the highest priorities for all smart home providers, and voice assistants face distinct challenges in ensuring they honor their commitments to maintain both.  Those decisions, however, may foreshadow the shuttering of open and collaborative smart home partnerships in favor of transactional relationships between VAs and smart home device makers.

The terms of the relationship between device makers and voice assistants could be more mutually beneficial, and equitable.  But, unfortunately, voice assistants are trending away from mutual terms in the name of security and privacy. Suggesting that one must trade smart home openness for security and privacy is an oversimplification and ultimately a false bargain.

The Ugly

As mentioned earlier, VA providers are competing for market share.  They’re working hard to evolve their competitive advantages and moving further apart with each differentiating feature.  Unfortunately, they are not evolving based on any agreed standard meaning, to support multiple integrations you have to build unique skills for each one you choose. That’s double or even triple the work, if you’re well heeled. This is the ugly side of voice assistant support for third parties - and for some device makers, it can require core re-engineering to accommodate requirements like real-time state reports.  In some unfortunate circumstances, where the device cloud was not designed to support such frequent state updates, it can require product re-pricing to account for the increasing cloud costs. Choosing the right cloud will solve this problem.

Supporting voice assistants is table stakes for you if you are building a smart home device or service, but it’s vital to maximize the most important aspect of the somewhat transactional relationship - exposure to your target market.


About the Author

Wilson Hughes is a technical sales support and implementation specialist at Yonomi. Experienced at tactical and operational levels at companies large and small, Wilson lives to solve problems and ensure customer success. We mean it - message this guy if you have any kind of problem. He once helped a guy move so they wouldn't miss a project milestone.


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