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Voice assistants are toys. At least, they’re finding it hard to talk their way into our lives, especially with technicians who know there are more powerful smart home systems or interfaces that can do a better job of automating their homes or workplaces.
Touch screens are ubiquitous. The mass adoption of touch screen technology is in our ATM machines, dining spots, restaurant counters, cars, tablet computers and smartphones, among many others. They have been battle tested. Besides, most of them have voice controls, too. This helps technicians who have clients who like voice assistants to go with their touchscreen technology.
The key thing to remember here is that reliance on one technology feature or function (voice assistants, in this case) is not sufficient. To talk about their shortcomings is also critical, for companies to continue improving the technology. The headline in the September issue of the New York Times screams, “Voice Assistants Don’t Understand Us. They Should.” While the focus of the piece was on people affected the most by this issue -- stutterers and others with voice disabilities, it does bring up the author’s concern.
Says Char Adams, “For people like me, the voice technology that is a part of so many people’s everyday lives can feel all but useless. Telling Alexa to play a song or asking Siri for directions can be almost impossible whenever prolonged (“Aaaaaaaaa-lexa”) or chopped (“Hey … Si … ri!”) sounds cause the devices to misunderstand my commands or stop listening altogether.
The inconvenience of voice assistants is not a big concern for the majority who can get by without them. The problem is for those who have trouble using their voices because they stutter or have speech-altering conditions caused by cerebral palsy.
There are about 7.5 million people in the United States with these speech impediments who could have dramatically improved their lives, according to The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Even any typical smart home user encounters problems using them. A voice assistant can be especially challenging for those with thick accents, or any dental treatments such as braces or an aligner. And how would voice assistants tackle a mask-wearing world -- or determine, say, context? A kid's innocent question may get a naughty response like this viral video of a kid talking to Amazon Alexa. How do voice assistants detect kid's voices?
Still, many tech companies produce them to improve and learn from adopters’ usage of the technology. They do work, except in certain times when they don’t -- to mean the time when one ends up repeating words or instructions until these assistants work.
Clearly, tech companies have the tremendous opportunity -- or one could call it audacious challenge -- of improving voice-recognition technology for everyone, whether one has disabilities or not. It remains to be seen how they will improve over time.
Apple has reportedly collected more than 28,000 audio clips of stutterers in hopes of improving Siri’s voice recognition technology. Amazon has partnered with Voiceitt, an app that learns individual speech patterns, to make Alexa more accessible.
Google is working with speech engineers, speech language pathologists and a pair of A.L.S. organizations to start a project to train its existing software to recognize diverse speech patterns. Microsoft has invested $25 million toward inclusive technology.
The motivation to produce them hinges on one thing. Big companies like to be First to Market and know some customers don’t mind being early adopters. Skeptics tend to call out those adopters as having been afflicted with the Shiny Object Syndrome, the moniker for buyers who defend the latest and trendy unproven products.
Voice assistants could easily be in that category, because using your voice makes it seem like it’s the most natural thing to do. But the technology is not here yet.
John Morello, a smart home integrator at Premium Digital Control & Automation, says he doesn’t mind it when clients ask for voice assistants to be added to their home automation requirements. However, he makes it very clear to them that voice assistants, for now, are like toys, not as reliable as they may sound in the advertisements they read or watch.
“We install reliability,” John says, referring to the company’s foundational approach to smart home automation.
When smart home technicians talk about reliability, it’s about how smart home systems already exist to help them lay the solid structure or foundation for building their smart homes and offices. Technicians can simply integrate a piece that becomes part of a whole until every corner of a home or office is connected or integrated to work seamlessly together.
But what would that one piece be? Smart home automation involves many moving parts but a more reliable option compared to voice assistants that can do the same thing are touch screen panels. Voicing out your thoughts may seem like it’s the most intuitive thing to do, even downright efficient as it frees up your hand to do other tasks, but people are not only comfortable using touch panels, especially their smartphones, which is now second nature to them, but they know deep down that they are more precise.
Studies evaluating touch screen performance have found that direct finger input is a natural input method and that inexperienced users and different age groups from kids to seniors can easily operate this technology.
With steady internet connectivity and constantly improving technology, touch panels provide a fast and responsive user interface. The user-friendliness of touch panels cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to controlling your world.
Touch panels can be connected to various subsystems to control thermostats, light switches, door locks, routers, controllers, remote controls and yes, our smartphones. This means more workload for voice assistants to handle.
If a home has many connected smart home devices, it means the voice assistant will need to learn to understand more specific voice instructions.
One smart home enthusiast from Fort Lauderdale cites a failed voice command, “Master Bed Light 100%,” one of many “smart lighting assignments” in his home. Nearly all the time, no matter how much he enunciates properly to instruct his voice assistant, it doesn’t respond.
Technicians say this is the challenge for owners of smart home devices. It’s nothing like how advertisements show us how they work. It’s not simply, “Turn on light.”
To narrow down your options of touch screen devices, Premium Digital Control’s integrators have some great options for you from the prestigious brands it works with, most of them with integrated voice commands already in place.
Crestron has 50 items listed on its site ranging from extra large touch screens and large touch screens to medium touch screens and wireless touch screens.
Control4 has both tabletop and in-wall touch screens in 7” and 10’ versions. The T3 Series In-Wall and Tabletop Touch Screens provide guests with dedicated, responsive and total control from one interface.
These touch screens are not only fast and responsive, they also look good. They have gorgeous low-profile designs with edge-to-edge glass and stunning, high-resolution graphics. All models include HD video intercom and crystal-clear audio intercom for convenient communications from room to room or with visitors at the door.
The Savant Pro App, on the other hand, provides a view of your home at a glance quick access custom touch controls across all devices, including Apple Watch. It is available in English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Swedish.
Touchscreen panels in the small form factor of remote controls that have integrated voice commands are Control4 has the Neeo Remote, while Savant has Savant Pro Remote X2. Both can take control of an entire home or workplace. They can add controls for your Spotify music playlist, room temperature, and yes, even voice commands -- wherever you are in your house.
Voice assistants and touch screens are both good options for your space. The team at Premium Digital Control can integrate and automate both into your space efficiently.
Voice assistants as a standalone smart home device have a long way to go if you compare it to the capabilities of remote controls and other touch screen devices, even smartphones with apps.
The smart thing to do is to set expectations low when it comes to voice-recognition technology and to go for touch screen systems. They’re more powerful, fast and highly responsive remote controls and touch screens that can be customized to your specific needs -- and with voice controls for those who still want to use them. (Dennis Clemente)