I’m a member of a Yahoo group that discusses digital management and lifestyle tools, including paperless management approaches. Lately there has been a lot of discussion about voice-activated home assistants such as the Amazon Echo (powered by Alexa) and Google Home (powered by Google Assistant). Both of these have a lot of fans. And while I understand the appeal to other people, I realized that for me, right now, a device like this would just be clutter.
The following are some of things the devices can do, and why they don’t have me running to buy one.
Control “smart home” devices
If you have smart home devices, such as the Philips Hue smart light bulbs, something like the Echo could certainly have some appeal. As Grant Clauser wrote in The Wirecutter:
Imagine walking into your home in the evening with your arms overflowing with groceries. To turn the lights on you’d need to put the bags down, pull out your phone, unlock it, open the app, find the control for the lights you want and then tap the icon. With Alexa you simply speak the words “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.” Presto! the lights come on.
But I don’t have any such smart devices. I turn on my lights with a light switch. I adjust my thermostat manually. I use a key to unlock my front door. All of these work fine for me. If I had a larger home, if my life involved more travel, or if I had certain physical limitations I might want some smart home devices, but right now there’s no problem they would be solving.
Play music, podcasts, or audio books
Unlike a lot of people, I only listen to music or podcasts in the car. When I’m home, I almost always prefer silence. And as much as I like to read, I never developed an interest in audio books.
If I did want to listen to music or podcasts, the smartphone in my pocket could take of that just fine. I wouldn’t need another device.
Respond to voice commands to provide information
You can ask these devices to tell you the temperature or how long a commute you’re facing. You can ask it to pull up information from Wikipedia. You can ask a variety of straightforward questions and get answers. And some people find this really useful.
Me? I generally prefer written or visual information. When I’m checking my commute before leaving home, I like looking at the map from my local traffic agency that shows me where any slowdowns or accidents are located. If I want information from Wikipedia, I want to read it, not have paragraphs of information spoken to me.
I’d be fine with voice responses to simple questions such as “What’s the score in the Giants game?” or “What is 20 cm in inches?” but I don’t often feel the need to ask this kind of question. And I could just pull out my iPhone and ask Siri the question if I didn’t want to type it into a search engine. (After many years with iPhones, I just tried asking Siri some questions for the first time, so you can see how much I care about this functionality.)
Add items to your calendar or lists
The Amazon Echo works with various calendars, but not the one I use — and Google Home requires using Google’s calendar, which I don’t. So that’s not a feature I could use.
The Echo lets you add things to a shopping or to-do list, which then show up in the Alexa app on your smartphone. (Google Home has something similar.) This feature appeals to me more than any other, but I don’t really have a problem with how I handle these lists today, without an extra device.
I’ve seen people mention how cool it is to be shopping and see something pop up on their shopping list that another family member has added. But my only other household members are my cats, and I don’t they’ll be adding items to my shopping list.
Generally make life easier or more fun
I’ve seen numerous rave reviews like these:
And other people just enjoy the features that aren’t all that useful or interesting to me. These devices make other people’s lives easier and more productive, and I think that’s great.
This goes to show that one person’s clutter can be another person’s invaluable item. We all have different needs and preferences and will make different purchasing choices.