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How voice control will make the Internet of Things more human

J.D. Sartain | June 11, 2014
As the Internet of Things expands from the industrial environment to the home, more people will interact with connected devices. Expect the voice commands familiar to entertainment system and smartphone users to become the 'interface' for these smart devices.

Cisco Systems expects more than 10 billion mobile Internet-connected devices by 2016, including machine-to-machine (M2M) modules. Gartner sees the Internet of Things (IoT) reaching 26 billion installed units by 2020. Forrester says voice control will be the next battleground for technology's Big Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

How do those three statements relate? With all these mobile Internet-connected devices and installed IoT units, the progression to voice control and monitoring is the next logical step.

Building intuitive human interaction capabilities within next generation-connected products is becoming essential and expected," says Yasser Kahn, CEO and founder of Connect2.Me, an IoT platform that represents (among other technologies) a long list of voice control and monitoring companies. "Nothing defines 'intuitive' more than voice interaction. It reduces the adoption and learning curve for the end user while, at the same time, creat[ing] a unique bond between the product and its owner."

The increase in personal devices by 2020 is an important statistic to consider, notes Jorge Lopez, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. The voice control industry is a proxy for growth, but it's also a proxy for an upper limit; once the number of personal devices reaches every human on the planet, further growth is only gained by increasing the capabilities of things, he says. "If that does take off, to an even modest extent, it will represent growth substantially larger than with personal devices."

Voice Control Applications Just the First Step

James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester explains that the most common applications for this technology will be home security, personal and family health monitoring, and family monitoring (whether remote or local).

Consumers' need for these applications will justify the introduction of microphones and other sensors into homes (and even businesses) almost immediately. Even though the most common microphones today are in voice control of specific appliances, devices and entertainment services such as Amazon FireTV and Comcast's X1 Platform, these likely won't be the microphones installed as safety and health monitors.

What's more likely, McQuivey says, are environmental microphones either built into smoke alarms and thermostats or in the form of small plug-in modules such as an electric air freshener. Once these microphones are in place, they can be assigned to do just about anything - listen to people sleep (to provide a 'snore report'), identify if individuals face health issues that need to be addressed, monitor who's home in the afternoon (to ensure the kids arrive home from school safely and on time) and alert parents if something's not right.

"All of this will happen," McQuivey says. "It's just a question of who's best positioned to sell it to consumers."


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