And while initially it felt a little gimmicky, it actually solves one of the major niggling points of the smart home: you want to have access to your voice assistant in every room but don’t really want to fill your home with speakers.
The problem with having a house full of speakers is twofold really; firstly, where do they all go? If you’ve just got one sat in a prominent position in your living room, it’s not that big a deal, but once you’ve got one in every room, they feel like an imposing, ever-present entity. This does nothing to assuage the ‘I’m being watched’ fear that many people already have around smart speakers.
Big house, big wallet
The second problem is expense. Even if you have a small two bedroom flat and wanted to have one in every room you’re talking about six speakers; bedroom one, bedroom two, kitchen, bathroom, living room, hallway.
Now these problems are something that the major players Amazon and Google have obviously considered, and it does feel like Amazon’s range in particular is tailored towards a user that wants to fill their home with speakers.
One of the most common questions that we get asked is ‘Which Amazon speaker is right for me?’ And while it’s an understandable question, it might be more accurate to ask ‘Which Amazon speaker is right for my bedroom?’
There’s the main Echo Plus, which is probably best to think of as the hub (although whether it is actually a fully-featured hub is a conversation for another day) which you’d have in the living room. Then you’ve got the Dot which is the small satellite speaker that’s probably right for the hallway and bathroom.
For the kitchen you’d want to Show, with its screen to show you recipes. In the bedrooms you’ll probably want the Spot, with its small screen so that you can do a tannoy video call, and check on your baby, or ask if your partner wants their eggs scrambled or poached.
The Echo Plus is $149 (£139, AU$199), the Dot $49.99 (£49.99, AU$49), the Show $229.99 (£199.99, about AU$290), and the Spot $129.99 (£119, about AU$160). That means a full house set up sets you back a hefty $738.95 (£676.97, about AU$900) just to have Alexa in every room. And that’s a small flat.
Now, if instead of a smart speaker you had a smoke and carbon monoxide detector like the Safe & Sound from FirstAlert with Alexa or Google Home integration, you’d be doubling up on the functionality of an item, ridding yourself of the need for another speaker, and you’d change your smoke alarm from something you buy but hope you never need, to something that is useful on a daily basis.
There may be a trade off in terms of audio quality (we don't know, we haven't heard the alarm's speaker), but given that it's replacing a Dot, it's not like you'd be losing hi-fi sound quality.
Alexa, do I still need a smart speaker?
Likewise, if your fridge was also your smart home hub and a speaker with a screen, you’d be consolidating multiple smart home functions into a device that you already need to have in your home. Samsung was demonstrating this exact thing at CES with the Family Hub fridge.
Now, coming from Samsung, it works with Bixby which (to put it lightly) isn’t the most popular voice assistant out there at the moment, but it's building on the SmartThings smart home hub platform which is industry leading. If Bixby isn’t your thing, it’s only going to be a matter of time before similar offerings with Alexa and Google Assistant integrations are commonplace.
Now, these devices aren’t cheap. Safe & Sound is currently available for preorder in the US at $249.99, which is considerably more than an Echo Dot, but the prices will come down, and over time we predict that this type of integration will become the norm rather than the exception.
The question that this really asks is when everything is a smart speaker, will we need smart speakers that are just speakers at all?