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Samsung Get Smart (Speakers).

It will be no surprise to anyone that last quarters Smart-Speaker sales were dominated by Google and Amazon. Whilst the Google Home (25% Market Share) is slowly chipping away at Alexa’s market dominance (67%) there is little else in the way of meaningful opposition … yet.

With 7.4 million devices being sold in Q3 of 2017 alone, the personal voice assistant market is a growing one and its pie that many tech giants are keen to have a piece of.

Set to join the race in early 2018 is the much delated Apple Home Pod along with a new device from Samsung.

A report from Bloomberg has revealed that the Korean tech giants plan to launch a Smart-Speaker device in the first quarter of next year powered by its voice assistant “Bixby” which debuted on their mobile handset the Galaxy S8.

For anyone who has previously used the charmingly named ‘Bixby’ before, the idea of a Smart-Speaker powered by its technology probably won’t get them too excited. To put it kindly, the reviews have been mixed. However, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this potential new competitor.

If Samsung is going to make an impact in this market they have a lot of catching up to do. Their Smart Speaker must do enough to convince people to ditch Amazon, Google or Apple in favour of a newer device.

Samsung is promising a focus on audio quality, something that has let Amazon’s Speakers down previously, but it’s “connectivity” that could be the real selling point for this new device. Samsung doesn’t just make phones and tablets they also build TV’s, fridges, washing machines and all manner of household goods. This will make it much simpler for them to integrate these devices into a voice-first home. Already Samsung phones link up effortlessly with Samsung Smart TV’s and voice-commands via your Smart-Speaker is the next, obvious step. Currently, devices like the Echo rely on third party “Skills” synchronising with other devices around the smart-home, for Samsung and the 160+ devices that make up their “SmartThings” network, it could all just work.

The futuristic scenario of effortlessly controlling an entire household of devices via a Smart Assistant on your phone would appear closer than before with Samsung in the race. Fridges that remind you when you are low on milk, TV’s that know when to record your favourite show, doors that lock and unlock for selected users are all easier to integrate if created by the same manufacturer.

It’s not just a point of difference for Samsung either. It’s a business model. Whereas Amazon use their Speakers to promote purchases from the Amazon Store and Google directs users to its lucrative search engine (and paid searches), Samsung can encourage users to buy its own products to assist frictionless Smart-Home integration.

We won’t know for sure what the device contains until early next year but even with its slow start, we can see it being a big contender in the Smart Speaker world.

Heads UP! Is your marketing plan for 2018 behind the curve?

It’s anticipated that a whopping 12 million virtual assistants will be sold during this Christmas period alone. With corporate behemoths like Apple, Samsung and Google using the ‘holiday season’ to try to bridge the gap to Amazon’s market-leading position in the “voice first” world, the year ahead should be fruitful for those who take the leap to this new platform. 2017 was the year Alexa entered mainstream consciousness. 2018 will be the year brands utilise the power of this platform for advertising…is your business ready?

For some, building a marketing plan for Alexa has been kicked into the long grass. Mainly, we imagine, because it’s hard to get your head around the technology and its application with so many communication channels to divert time, energy and marketing spend too. NOW is the time to move your brand into a screenless, voice-first future.

Customers have their heads up and eyes open to the technology…literally, thanks to ever-increasing voice first, frictionless interactions! Consumers now expect to be able to ask devices for what they want, with ‘voice first’ becoming commonplace in people’s lives. Voice technologies are not far from ubiquity. Research shows 1 in 5 search engine requests are made by voice right now, reaching 50% by 2020. For once, science fiction AND the reality of technology seem to agree…the future involves decreasing use of screens.

Uber, Starbucks, Dominos…there are brands that have stolen a march on their competition and helped build the playbook from which other brands will mount their own foray into this new channel. The way people interact with their technology world around us are changing the behaviour and expectations of consumers. The imperative for brands to reach out and meet those expectations is here.

How Safe Is Your Smart Speaker?

Ever since the Amazon Echo popped up in our homes in 2015 there have been rumbling concerns about security. A belief that surely, a device that listens to every word, just waiting for a command, could potentially be used to spy on our every conversation.

I’ll level with you, I shared that concern. I felt there was something very “Big Brother” about an extra pair of ears, sitting on my kitchen top, listening everything I had to say. What “Big Brother” would want to do with my discussions about what to have for tea and arguments about washing up is another question entirely.

Two years down the line, I now understand a bit more about the Echo, its Smart-Speaker friends and how secure they’re information actually is. Plus, I know some easy steps YOU can take to protect your information.

So, first, is Alexa always listening? Short answer: No. Long answer (and sorry to disappoint the countless alarmist, click-bait bloggers out there) Alexa (and Google Home) only listens to your conversations after the wake word, which can be whatever you wish, is uttered.

“Both Google and Amazon are very clear that they do not record any ambient conversations that are within range of their Smart-Speaker’s microphone.”

Both Google and Amazon are very clear that they do not record any ambient conversations that are within range of their Smart-Speaker’s microphone. Google says its device listens in short bursts for the wake word, promptly deleting any data it collects whilst Amazon make similar claims in its Alexa FAQ doc. (You can read that here). Once the wake word is detected the audio that follows (and a few seconds before) is streamed to the cloud, in encrypted form, where it can be processed.

If you want to see what conversations have been recorded via your device then there is a full list of questions, commands and sweet nothings you may have whispered into your Alexa’s ear within the App on your phone. You can even delete your history here if you wish – although this will inhibit your devices ability to learn from previous interactions. In other words: Your smart speaker won’t be quite as smart.

So, if Amazon and Google aren’t spying on us, is anyone else? Short answer, maybe. Long answer, and don’t panic, these devices are still incredibly safe but only as safe as any device that can record data and is connected to the internet can be. Just as your mobile phone camera or your laptop microphone has the potential to be vulnerable to hackers, so is your Amazon Alexa. In fact Smart Speakers would appear more secure against such attacks with a report from MWR Info Security suggesting their main vulnerability would be from physical tampering.

It COULD happen but it’s very very unlikely. As for the idea that Amazon or Google are using your ambient conversations to directly target you with advertising? The risks of giant fines and lack of consumer confidence would far outway any benefit they would gain from hearing you talk about your prefered brand of dishwasher tablet. Not to mention streaming, collecting and processing all that data from every user would be a near-impossible task— its pure conspiracy theory.

Still feeling a little paranoid?
Ok, here’s a few simple security tricks that you could employ to make the sure FBI aren’t listening in to the conversations you have with your dog.

  1. Mute Your Mic.
    Alexa is pretty good at listening. If you are unlucky enough to have a friend or a pet by the same name you’ll know that she “wakes” at the merest mention of her name, even in a sea of other noise. If you are worried that you may anciently invoke a function then you can always mute its microphone. Just press the handy ‘Microphone Off’ button at the top of the device. Obviously, adding a button to a button-less technology isn’t ideal and limits Alexa’s functionality BUT it can be useful if you want to feel extra-secure when you are not at home.
  2. 2) Don’t Call Alexa, Alexa.
    One of the cool features of the Alexa system is the ability to change the wake word to whatever you want. It’s not just fun to wake up to the latest news from your Flash Briefing with the command “Moonpants, whats going on today” it’s also a layer of security meaning that not just anyone can walk up and have their wicked way with your device.
  3. Add a PIN.
    Like the novelty and freedom of shopping by voice but want an added layer of security? Although not featured as default, it’s pretty easy to set up a voice security PIN for your device. Head to “Settings” and then “Voice Purchasing” in your Alexa App and pick your four-digit PIN you will be required to say aloud with every purchase.
  4. Check your “Drop-In” Settings.
    Earlier this year the Amazon introduced a feature called “Drop In” where your Echo could be used as an intercom system/phone. It allows the devices to connect automatically to another Alexa enabled device, once permission has been granted, allowing conversations between users. Currently, once you have paired with someone they can then “drop in” at any time, without you having to accept the call. You can change your preferences from this under Settings in the Alexa App allowing only specific devices to “Drop In” to your own Echo.

Fell better now? Good. The above tips are good if you are feeling a little paranoid but, for me, some of them pair back the usability of your Amazon Smart-Speaker much more than any real risk involved. As with any internet-enabled device there is a slight security risk behind using it but for the most part, common sense and sensible use of password security can keep you and your household safe.

Will Smart-Speakers be the kick-start that Podcasting needs?

“Podcasting is about to take off.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told this over the years. Yet somehow, the wonderful, creative, bubbling cauldron of brilliant, and mostly undiscovered, audio content has always remained slightly under the radar. A sub-culture for audio-evangelists and radio buffs. Never quite making the break into the mainstream.

But could the introduction of the Smart-Speaker be just what Podcasting needs to take it to the next level?

The impact that the rise of Smart Speakers has made to audio consumption is remarkable and surely, this can only have a positive impact on Podcasting in the future. The “Smart Audio Report” released by NPR and Edison Research earlier this year looked at how Smart-Speaker owners in the US were using voice-controlled devices and if ownership was impacting their listening habits. The result were clear: if you own a device such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home you consume more audio. Simple. 70% of people surveyed said that since buying the device they are listening to more audio at home. That’s great news for anyone who makes Audio Content.

The impact on audio listening doesn’t stop there either as you can see from the below infographic:

“The Smart Audio Report” by NPR & Edison Research shows some encouraging stats for Audio producers.

These are incredible numbers for a consumer technology that is still, relatively, in its infancy. It shows that owners are actively changing their listening habits as soon as they bring the device into their homes. Smart Speakers are disrupting the way we consume media content and it’s having a hugely positive effect on audio.

From a podcasting perspective, it’s interesting that podcast listening for Smart-Speaker owners is 50% higher than for non-owners. Of course, those who have purchased such a device are by their nature early adopters, educated and wealthy, mirror a traditional podcasting audience and thus skew the stats slightly, but it also shows that people are actively looking for and consuming for new audio content via their device. For many, this new channel is THE way that they now consume audio.

There will, of course, be massive changes to the way audio is designed for Smart-Speakers: The technology involved will develop allowing for greater interactivity and more intuitive productions and audio that reacts to a user’s demands and wishes will slowly become the norm. The demand for a more traditional form of audio will always remain however and these devices are providing another channel to consume radio, music and importantly, podcasts.

In my view, there are two main factors that will come into play in terms of Smart-Speaker’s impact on Podcasting (and indeed audio consumption in general). They are EASE and DISCOVERY.

Ease, because a podcast can now be found and played with a single voice command. Personally, a massive barrier to me listening to more podcasts is my daily fight with iTunes, downloading new episodes and moving audio onto the device I wish to listen on. With my Amazon Alexa it’s easy: “Alexa play me the latest S-Town Podcast” and away we go. Simple. Easy. Frictionless.

As for discovery, Chris Huskins “One of the podcast guys” (that’s his official title) from Abrupt Audio thinks that anything that makes Podcast’s easier to discover has got to have a positive impact:

“Without a central hub for all podcasts on all devices it’s often hard to make sure a podcast is available to everyone. Smart speakers can and will change that: the ease of simply asking for a show and having it return the latest episodes, as easily as it can find the latest Foo Fighter track, will put podcasts alongside music listening”

It really is starting to look like a game changer. Exactly how much of a game-changer will become more apparent as the technology improves The recent launch of the “Sonos One” with Alexa functionality has improved audio quality for audiophiles whilst in-car integration (Currently being spear-headed by SEAT) will make finding and listening to podcasts on-the-go easier than it has ever been.

There are a number of ways that you, as a podcaster can take advantage of this new channel from building your own Branded Podcast Skill to ensuring your show is available via “Alexa ready” sources (such as Spotify) to creating short, regular episodes that can be released as daily Flash Briefings. We will have to wait and see which methodology proves the most effective.

Bridge Ratings & Media Analysis has projected that the total revenue for the podcasting industry is set to reach almost £400million by 2020 and I have no doubt that Smart-Speakers will play a key role in that growth.

NEW STUDY: “Voice IS the most effective way to communicate emotion.”

Anyone with a background in radio or audio production will know this already: Emotion is best communicated via voice. Now science is here to back up the theory.

The American Psychological Association have just published a study by Yale School of Management that explored the “Empathic Accuracy” of messages when delivered by voice compared to other means. In other words, they sought an answer to the question: “is it easier to pick up on emotion when you hear someone talking rather than, for example, looking at them”.

Not only did the study find that voice WAS the most effective way to convey emotion, but it also concluded that “voice only” communication, where there was no visual aids or stimulation, was the most effective method of all.

These findings have huge implications when looking at Smart Speaker technology as a marketing tool.

“Voice-only communication enhances empathic accuracy above that observed in communication across senses.”
Michael W Kraus of the Yale School of Management

The study undertook 5 experiments that sought to measure the effectiveness of different communication methods and concluded that when it comes to emotional accuracy, “voice alone” is the most effective method. The study also found that the introduction of visual elements (such as a video) only acted as a distraction. A voice-only message, however, helped listeners absorb not only content but also emotional context.

The findings only serve to enhance the appearance of Smart-Speaker and Voice-First technology as a marketing tool. The study underlines the emotional connection that can be created easily between voice content and user. A better emotional connection between a consumer and a brand means a better chance of someone actually purchasing a product.

Even the most rational individual will make decisions based on emotion. We’ve all heard the phrase “Let your heart rule your head” and if a brand/business/service and communicate the right emotions then it then becomes easier to trigger the desired action. Radio sales teams have forever spoken about the “intimacy” of audio and its ability to sell like no other medium and the same rules apply here. Clear, emotive messages that are memorable to the listeners can result in influencing a potential customers decision making.

This news does come with a word of caution however for anyone wanting to take advantage of this space. It may be time to step away from Alexa (or Siri or whether automated voice-assistant is your go-to gal). One experiment used information delivered via a robotic voice (similar to those inbuilt with such voice assistants). This had a hugely negative impact on the listeners understanding of the message and their emotional connection with it. Any voice-first developer will tell you that the automated voices on Smart-Speaker devices are essential in performing many basic functions. There is also no doubt that their ability to mimic human communication and convey emotion within it is improving all the time. However, if you are looking to create that emotional connection with a potential customer then delivering certain messages with pre-recorded, human-voice audio has a huge advantage.

One thing is sure. This study demonstrates how powerful voice is when not only delivering information but also when understanding the meaning and subtext of that message.

You can read the full research paper here.

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