Navigant Research Blog

Alexa’s Super Bowl Pick Demonstrates Advances in UX

— February 1, 2018

Over the past week, the internet has been captivated by Alexa’s pick for the Eagles to win Super Bowl LII, with tweets, videos, and articles featuring Alexa’s latest mantra: “I’m flying with the Eagles with this one because of their relentless defense and the momentum they’ve been riding off their underdog status. E-A-G-L-E-S. Eagles.”

Though most will look at this latest Alexa craze with a small chuckle and admire the assistant’s cleverness (or, if a Patriots fan, seething and swearing off Alexa), to me this response demonstrates a small step forward in user experience (UX) that has been lacking in digital assistants.

What Is UX?

UX is an increasingly popular acronym floating around the tech industry (not to be confused with user interface [UI]), and it captures a field targeted at improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in interactions between consumers and products. In the world of digital assistants, UX is about the smarts of a digital assistant and its ability to complete tasks asked of it in a satisfactory way to users.

Some would argue that, while there have been significant strides in voice activation as a UI, one of the biggest obstacles to the mass adoption of digital assistants is lacking UX. For anybody who has used a digital assistant, this is completely understandable. There is nothing more frustrating than asking Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, or any other the other various digital assistants a simple question, only to have it not understand or reference something entirely unrelated. This type of mishap is frequent enough that it has even resulted in satire about the experience with digital assistants. One such example is a CollegeHumor clip where a woman asks, “Siri, how big is the Serengeti?” and Siri responds, “No problem. Show me pictures of spaghetti.”

Personality Is a Plus

While Alexa rooting for the Eagles isn’t exactly a groundbreaking advancement in the field of artificial intelligence and natural language processing, the fact that users are fascinated with this phenomenon and think Alexa has a sense of humor creates a more positive UX with digital assistants, and can help spur adoption of these devices. Personally, the fact that I get a clever response from Alexa on who will win the Super Bowl, while my Google Assistant says, “My apologies. I don’t know that,” gives Alexa a leg up on Google because taking a side is more personable than saying nothing at all. It’s a small gesture on Amazon’s part that makes a big difference in my experience as a user. As it so happens, I also agree with Alexa. Go Eagles!

 

Even My Grandma Has a Smart Home!

— January 25, 2018

There are all kinds of barriers to smart home adoption. People ask me all the time, “what do you use your Alexa for?” Unconvinced by existing value propositions, many consumers figure they need not bother with smart technology.

Smart Home Imperfections

Admittedly, for all the promise about how smart these products are and how they will change our lives, often they are not that smart and they fail to meet expectations. The countless times I have asked my Echo device a simple question, only to have Alexa respond with “Sorry, I don’t know that,” drives even the earliest of adopters to the brink. And that’s not even going into the issues surrounding installation, troubleshooting, interoperability, and cost. It makes many wonder, why all the fuss?

Smart Features Offer Ease

Despite all the reasons people find not to adopt smart home products, I have found a convincing case for even the biggest skeptic. I recently discovered my grandma has a smart home.

My grandma is no early tech adopter—she is 80 and her favorite hobby is quilting—and yet, she has a Google Home, a Nest Cam, three Philips Hue light bulbs, several ConnectSense smart outlets, and an iPad or iPhone to control them all, which is a more robust smart home ecosystem compared to what most people have—including me. Every evening when it starts to get dark, she uses her smartphone to turn on lamps, instead of having to bend over and switch them on. When she retires for the evening, she asks Google Assistant to turn her Hue bulbs on, instead of having to fumble around in the dark for a light switch. She doesn’t even notice the Nest Cam perched on her mantel, but it gives my family members piece of mind as they can check on her using their smartphones from wherever they are.

Gifting Smart Tech

There are, of course, a few caveats. My grandma hasn’t purchased any of these products herself. They have all been gifts from family members, which is important for vendors to keep in mind when targeting consumers. When a device malfunctions, she calls upon her children and grandchildren for troubleshooting, which usually involves walking her through an app over the phone or simply restarting a device. Though this works most of the time, smart home tech vendors need to provide maintenance and support to consumers.

My grandma also hasn’t installed any of these devices herself, though they have been plug-and-play enough for younger generations in the family, and many companies are increasingly offering installation services. To top it off, her smart plugs are integrated with Apple HomeKit, but they aren’t integrated with Google Assistant, meaning she can’t control them through voice activation—which highlights a common interoperability problem for most consumers.

If Grandma Can Do It, Anybody Can

While the smart home market has its challenges, there are emerging use cases that are convincing more consumers to embrace the technology. Smart home tech should not be used only by early adopters and younger generations, it should be used by everyone. If my grandma can use smart home products and services, then anyone can, and there is hope for the smart home market yet.

 

CES 2018: The Year of Behind-the-Scenes Innovation

— January 23, 2018

A year ago at CES, the event belonged to Amazon’s Alexa, with vendors touting Alexa integrations and displaying Echo devices prominently at their respective booths. At CES 2018, however, a single showstopper failed to materialize—unless one includes the power outage at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which was the biggest surprise (and I was there). In lieu of one standout product, I noted several key trends, including the ever-popular artificial intelligence (AI), a growing number of home healthcare offerings, an aggressive push from Google, and an expanding presence of French startups.

Everybody Is Doing AI

This year, much of the innovation is taking place in the backend software of smart products: the AI world. Nearly every company I spoke with flaunted the use of deep learning and AI. While the term AI was used loosely to describe algorithms and machine learning, this behind-the-scenes technology is progressing, which enables more advanced functionality for smart products. There are new and better algorithms, such as those used in Philips’ Hue Sync, which enables multiple connected lights to respond in sync to movies, video games, and music in real time. Advancements in machine learning are enabling digital assistants to recognize the voices of individual people and understand conversational context.

Home Healthcare Edges its Way into the Spotlight

Home healthcare continues to edge its way into more connected products, and this was underscored as I made my way around the crowded show floors. Offerings varied from elderly care solutions, to products for promoting better sleep, to services for people to better connect with their doctors. While propositions such as security, energy, and convenience are largely driving smart home adoption, healthcare solutions can provide enhanced value on a more personal or familial level. Health-focused products can help users better track their own health or the health of loved ones, and can help prevent unexpected illnesses and diseases.

Google Starts Taking CES and the Smart Home Seriously

Google’s presence was everywhere at CES 2018. The search giant’s messaging took over the Monorail, the Aria hotel’s display featured “Hey, Google” ads, and a giant Google gumball-style machine dispensed Homes and Minis to lucky CES attendees. Amazon took a lighter approach by booking ballrooms dedicated to business meetings with various Amazon business groups, including Alexa. This increased presence not only shows that these two companies are taking their engagement in the smart home market more seriously, but it also highlights the absence of Apple. Apple is being left behind in the smart home space, especially with the delay of its HomePod speaker and a continuous lack of traction with HomeKit.

The French Are Innovating

France’s efforts to become the startup capital of Europe were made obvious at CES by the sheer number of French startups present during CES 2018. From companies demonstrating software for making bathroom mirrors smart to Li-Fi-based IoT platform providers, the French are innovating and becoming a hotbed of opportunity for stakeholders across smart industries.

A World in Transition

Though CES 2018 did not have one major theme like that of past shows, the trends I observed fell in line with the progression of digitization that Navigant Research is seeing. Companies are transitioning from deploying hardware devices to enhancing their existing solutions through data and backend software. Large tech incumbents are recognizing the power of the smart home and investing heavily. New value propositions for this tech are emerging and providing more convincing use cases for consumers; new markets are growing from this opportunity. To learn more about these trends, see Navigant Research’s white paper on IoT and the Future of Networked Energy.

 

Amazon’s Key Service Echoes Growing Concerns Over Privacy and Security

— January 2, 2018

Amazon’s latest service innovation has raised questions about how far the boundaries of technology can be pushed to make consumers’ lives more convenient. The Amazon Key delivery service, along with the Amazon Cloud Cam and a compatible smart lock, allow users to grant access for in-home deliveries. The service solves issues around package theft and customer availability to receive a package. It works by sending the user a 4-hour window on the day of delivery and confirming the assigned courier is at the correct address at the intended time by scanning the package barcode. When the package is scanned, the user receives a notification of the imminent delivery, the Cloud Cam is activated, the door unlocks, and the user can watch the delivery in real-time or check back later to ensure the delivery went well. The service was made available in 37 cities for tens of millions of items in November 2017. This sounds simple and straightforward, but media and industry specialists are scrutinizing the limits this service approaches by letting strangers into people’s homes. And to be fair, there are already issues with it, including a flaw that allows couriers to disable the security camera and door lock (which Amazon has promised it will fix).

Can Security Solutions Tamper Concerns?  

This new service is one among many offerings in the residential sector that emphasizes growing concerns over consumer privacy and security. From the common belief that our beloved social media sites are spying on users to publicized hacks of big name brands resulting in leaked personal data, consumers are increasingly wary as technology becomes a more intimate part of their lives. Stakeholders across the value chain recognize the need to implement more robust security solutions, and new regulations that aim to protect consumer data are emerging, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But for many, cybersecurity is only starting to become a priority, and companies are still figuring out how to deal with growing threats.

Threats of Scale

Data privacy and security become especially complex in the consumer electronics world because the home is a sanctuary and should be private and secure. At the same time, the hacking of a Wi-Fi router has much lower stakes than the hacking of a power plant and can be considered less of a priority for investment in security. Manufacturers promise data privacy and secure devices, but customer sentiment does not always resonate with these assurances. There is also the question of responsibility and whether the manufacturer, chip provider, wireless protocol alliance, or the consumer should be held responsible for security and data privacy. Consumers want to partake in social media, adopt smart home devices, and lead more convenient lives, but don’t want to feel like they are being watched, listened to, or followed, and they don’t always understand the risks associated with using technologies (such as the collection and sales of personal data).

Convenience vs. Safety

Privacy and security are increasingly affecting consumers at home. Residential customers are skeptical of technologies that have the potential to compromise privacy and security, which is affecting market growth. In order to progress the Internet of Things in the home, it is important for stakeholders in the residential space to be transparent with users about the measures they take to ensure the security of devices, software, services, and data privacy.

 

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