There’s a war going on in your living room, and it’s being fought by smart machines.
The chief combatants are global powerhouses Google and Amazon and their fight is over the right to make your life easier. On one side stands Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated artificial intelligence service that inhabits more than 100 million devices around the world. On the other side stands the less well-named Google Assistant, which performs the same AI role in a billion global devices.
These tech rivals are being incorporated into just about every aspect of our home lives, turning thermostats, light switches, and ceiling fans into voice-activated and semi-autonomous machines that strive to keep us comfortable and hands-free.
They’re so efficient however, that one of the first victims in their battle for consumer supremacy may be the smart display video call device. Still in their infancy, these smart display devices are dedicated video conferencing units that stand alone as the landline of the future. They’re meant to have pride of place on your kitchen island or coffee table where the whole family can make a video call. The problem is that they may be too big and too public to survive a world of smart objects.
Home Hubs As the New Landlines
The virtual assistant has been with us since Siri was thrust upon the world by Apple in 2011. Originally restricted to Mac and iPhone use, it laid the foundation for the interactive search engines produced by Amazon, Microsoft (Cortana), and Google that have since migrated into all manner of smart technologies.
The virtual assistant first took form as a stand-alone device with the Amazon Echo smart speaker in 2014. Google followed suit with the Google Home Smart Speaker two years later (Apple’s HomePod didn’t arrive until 2018), but it wasn’t until 2017 that an assistant was given its own video conferencing platform. That milestone belonged to Amazon’s Echo Show, which had a seven-inch screen built on top of the existing Echo speaker to enable video calls.
The only real competition Amazon faces on the smart display video call device market may be the Facebook’s recently released Portal.
Amazon has dominated the smart hub market over the years and now commands a 70% share of the 50 million devices now in U.S. homes. Google has a 24% share and Apple’s HomePod around 6%.
Interestingly though, the only real competition Amazon faces on the smart display video call device market may be the Facebook’s recently released Portal. In fact, the Portal is the most advanced video version of the smart home hub, although concerns about privacy issues have dimmed its commercial prospects.
So, why does so youthful a tech movement have to be concerned about its future? It’s because the design of home video calling hubs flies in the face of everything we want from Internet-of-Things technology.
Video in an IoT Age
The recent CES 2019 event in Las Vegas delivered its usual trove of advances that we’ll see permeate our lives in the coming years. Along with telemedicine marvels, foldable smartphones, and dozens of robot companions, however, the event served as a battleground for Amazon’s and Google’s AI warriors. Each company went to great lengths to detail how its flagship assistants were being deployed in just about every smart device on show.
Video screens could be easily attached to our fridges and televisions, built into our mirrors, and hung on our walls.
These smart kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms are where the real fight for AI supremacy is being fought. Google and Amazon want their assistant to be the one that comes packaged with your new smart kettle, and it’s their technology they want to see controlling your smart oven for you. The rise of the smart appliance is about digitizing our everyday lives and connecting as many of the tools of that lifestyle to the internet as possible.
This is where video conferencing should be housed if we’re going to integrate it into our homes. Video screens could be easily attached to our fridges and televisions, built into our mirrors, and hung on our walls.
If the shared home video calling unit is going to be confined to a black box on the coffee table, it won’t fulfill its potential.
Smart Display Video Call or Smartphone Video Call?
When was the last time you made a group video call from home? Most likely it was related to a family event such as a birthday. Video conferencing is great at turning an audio call into an intimate visual family sing-along in honor of Grandma’s 72nd birthday. Those instances of shared video calls are relatively rare, though. So, the question is, how often are you going to want to make a private video call from the middle of the living room from a fixed device? Isn’t it more likely you’ll make your social video chats from your smartphone, as most of us already do?
Compared to the presentation and convenience of the smartphone in your pocket, there’s just not much the smart display video call device can do to impress.
Moreover, if you’re using the Echo Show in the living room to make a video call, it won’t take long before you start staring at the 50-inch television in front of you and wondering why you can’t make use of a screen that’s seven times bigger than the Amazon device–or the laptop screen that’s at least three times larger than the Echo Show as well as more portable.
When compared to the presentation and convenience of the smartphone in your pocket and the computer in your home office, there’s just not much the smart display video call device can do to impress. And compared to the wizardry of Internet-of-Things technology, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about such devices either.
The home hub video call device stands as something of a bridge between two worlds of video communication–the one you know now and the truly impressive video-call-on-your-fridge-door one to come. In that regard, the home smart display may soon become a victim of its creators’ own ambitions.