Smart Speakers and Clocks

Traditionally, most rooms in a house have not had information devices in them. Some rooms may have a TV and some may have a radio. However other than that, most rooms do not have any installed equipment that enables the residents to quickly get information.

There is one exception however, and that is clocks. Many rooms have clocks either hanging on the wall or sitting on a mantelpiece. Clocks provide information that is vital for modern life (“what time is it?”) with a mere glance, and they are so useful that people put them in their bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, home offices, and sometimes even in their toilets.

I wonder if the best way to think about Smart Speakers and the utility that they may bring to the home, is to compare them to these clocks. Can Smart Speakers provide the same benefit that we get from clocks around the house? Is the information that Smart Speakers may provide as important as telling the time? Why do we still need wall clocks when we can easily wear wrist watches instead? Does the UI need to be distilled to a simple glance instead of a voice UI?

If you adopt this viewpoint, then I think you can naturally arrive at the following conclusions.

  1. People generally don’t need too much information in the house. The time is a rare case of something that we often need to know in multiple rooms.
  2. If the information is important and frequently needed, then people will want to put devices in multiple rooms instead of relying on a watch or a smartphone that they carry around with them.
  3. People will prefer to get the information through a simple glance. A voice UI may be too inconvenient. For example, instead of a smart speaker that can tell you the weather when asked, a wall clock with a display showing this will probably end up being more useful.

2 thoughts on “Smart Speakers and Clocks”

  1. Another observation: we don’t have news tickers in hour homes. We could: those things have been around for decades and are cheap as dust. We don’t have “information screens” either, even LCD picture frames have flopped.
    I think there’s a limit to how many stimuli we can deal with, especially unsolicited stimuli (ie voice, has opposed to something visual and unobtrusive like a clock). If an assistant or device ever interrupts me, it better be because I told it to, or for a vital reason.

    Side note: I’m curious about Google’s Clip camera. A smart thing that doesn’t blabber, and that could be useful (say, shoot the highlights of a ping-pong match, pool hijinks…). I expected something drone-based for a better choice of angles though. Maybe next time, but in this self-broadcast age, I can imagine a handful of drones tasked with filming a person or an area, self-managing the fleet rotation (shoot, charge, rinse, repeat), angles, subjects and moments. And the upsell is infinite: start with a single clipdrone, add a second and the fast-charge base for single-angle/single-subject full time coverage, add more clipdrones and/or bases for more angles, subjects, …


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