Fast-forward to 2018 and smart speakers are practically a household necessity. In the last two years, Google has released smart speakers with its own voice assistant built in, a dozen new models were unveiled at IFA 2017, Amazon launched mark two versions of its Echos, Sonos won us over with its Alexa-powered One, and Apple’s much-vaunted Siri-controlled HomePod has finally hit the shops. But what exactly is a smart speaker? What can you do with it, and should you buy one?
What is a smart speaker?
Technically, a speaker capable of anything beyond just emitting sound can be labelled as ‘smart’.
So the fact wireless speakers feature Bluetooth, NFC, speakerphone abilities and can be controlled by apps already make them smart speakers.
But for our purposes, and because the tech industry in general is going with this description, ‘smart speakers’ are wireless speakers with voice-control built into them. Basically, if you can shout commands at your wireless speaker to make it do things, it’s a smart speaker.
Smart speakers tend to be single-unit wireless speakers, and have artificial intelligence (AI) built into them.
The most popular being Google’s Google Assistant.
What can a smart speaker do?
You can ask your smart speaker to play a song or playlist. You can ask it to set a timer while baking a soufflé. You can control your AV system. You can ask it to turn down the lights in your room, turn up the heating, ask for the weather report, check the traffic, book a taxi, tell it to create a to-do list or get it to tell you a joke.
What you can do with a smart speaker depends largely on which AI your speaker has inside it – Google Assistant or another brand work in different ways and work with different apps and services – and the extent of your smart home.
Alexa and Google Assistant both work with the big ones: Spotify Connect (you’ll need a Premium account), TuneIn Radio, Philips Hue, Nest, IFTTT (If This Then That), Kayak and, naturally, Domino’s Pizza.