Navigant Research Blog

Move Over Alexa! Text Messaging Wants a Seat, Too

Neil Strother — March 28, 2017

Using your voice to control your smart home might not become as popular as previously thought. Text messaging is looking for a seat at this table, too—especially for controlling smart appliances.

Ever since Amazon’s Echo device, better known as Alexa, stormed the market, voice activation has dominated smart home technology. This device was the star at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, where vendors of smart home and Internet of Things devices and services clamored to stay in Alexa’s orbit. For example, Google’s voice-activated Home device now competes with Alexa for market and mind share. Home, launched in late 2016, gets prominent retail display inside Verizon Wireless stores and seems to be riding in Alexa’s wake.

A New Use for an Older Technology

But an older technology lurks: text messaging. Unified Inbox, a small Singapore company, offers a text messaging service that has attracted the attention of several major appliance manufacturers, including Bosch. The service works by adding a user’s home to a contacts list in an app like WhatsApp; a message such as “preheat the oven to 300 degrees at 5:00 p.m.” can then get passed to an oven.

While this type of text messaging has yet to catch on with consumers, some technology leaders, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, are fans. Zuckerberg has been tinkering with Jarvis, his own voice-activated artificial intelligence program. He has discovered that he prefers text, mostly because the use of it feels less disturbing to people around him compared to voice-activated devices.

Texting has its place, and it should take hold among consumers in the coming months and years. However, the pace of adoption could be muted in the United States, where smart appliances are not that attractive to consumers. A report by Mintel last year found that 56% of respondents are willing to pay more for an energy efficient washing machine (good for consumers and utility demand-side management programs). Yet, just 11%-12% would pay more for a washing machine with smart features—including the ability to diagnose problems or monitor and control the machine from a mobile device.

An Open Question

Smart or connected appliances have already entered the market, and Navigant Research expects steady growth for this category going forward (see our Market Data: IoT for Residential Energy Customers report). But how people will interact with these smart appliances is still an open question. Voice activation has its place, but there is room for other user interfaces such as text messaging. The view here is that multiple interfaces will be available, and users will have to decide how best to control their own smart devices. There is no clear winner here—at least for the near term.

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