Not just for Christmas

‘She’s changed our lives for the better.’
‘I don’t know how we ever managed without her.’
‘She’s driving me mad!’
‘She doesn’t listen to me.’
‘I had to pull the plug on her.’

Yep. We’re in that new year/January wasteland where most of us are probably adjusting to the snazzy new gadgets we received for Christmas. (Or pets. At least one of the above sentences refers to a dog.) After playing with them during the holidays, it’s now time to settle them into our regular day-to-day routines.

No prizes for guessing what kind of gadget I’m referring to. The top app on Christmas day for Android and iPhone was Amazon’s Alexa app. While that doesn’t reveal specific device sales figures, it’s a strong indicator that smart speakers/digital assistants were the winning gifts for Christmas 2017. Other brands are, of course, available.

Having watched my friends over the past year adjust to having a virtual assistant in the home, I’ve noted several things – including:

  • How incredibly useful they are.
  • How IMMEDIATELY useful they become.
  • They have a bare minimum of settings.
  • They can do so much.
  • They adjust to accents.
  • They solve arguments.
  • My friends’ children ask these devices for everything – including food.
  • They don’t always work as planned.
  • They can do SO MUCH.

I, personally, don’t own one yet. I’m not even brave enough to install a smart thermostat at home. In fact, I’m one of those annoying people who would unplug everything if I could possibly get away with it. (I’m an anxious person – you get the idea…) BUT I’m intrigued to see how others go about their daily lives with them. As a sort of ‘laggard’, I talk to the early adopters and make my decisions based on their experiences. It’s for the best. Technological advances come so ridiculously quickly that most devices are considered out of date by the time I’m ready to buy in.

The other factor (which really doesn’t help my anxiety levels) is the privacy issue. Yes, Google knows everything I’ve ever asked it/written in Gmail/searched on YouTube. Facebook monitors me, Messenger listens to my conversations, and my phone has GPS. I’ve grudgingly learned to live with the price we pay for convenience – and I can switch them off around me when I feel like it. Having a device in the home listening to my conversations however is (currently) too far a stretch for me – even if it does have a mute button. I daresay I’ll change my mind further down the line but, right now, I live in a tiny flat and don’t have to stumble too far to switch the radio or a light on.

So if 2017 was the year that voice recognition hit the big time, what should we expect in 2018? More functions beyond the living room and kitchen for sure. Sleep technology is bound to be the next big thing. Your smart watch might be able to measure the quality of your sleep today, but how about app-enhanced beds for us and our pets tomorrow? Or bathroom solutions to control the length of our showers and water temperature? These can’t be too far away. In fact, I’m sure they already exist – I’m just too lazy to ask Google to verify. And I’ll be inundated with targeted ads for all sorts of tech wizardry if I do.  

Point is, it won’t be too long before the majority of our day-to-day tasks can’t happen without digital assistance.

What would make me cave in? Stuart Heritage summed things up in a way I can relate to:

‘You know how your heart sinks when you go to a shop and accidentally spend slightly more than £30, because it means you have to forego contactless payment in favour of manually entering your pin number with your fat cow hands like some sort of gormless circus monkey? That’s how it felt when I returned the Echo and reverted to digging out my phone, opening an app, typing some words, scrolling through choices and pressing play on my dumb anachronism of a Sonos. What had once been magical had suddenly become a chore.’

(If you liked that, give his whole article a read.)

While the tech isn’t suited to me (just yet), I’m genuinely excited to see how it will enhance the lives of the elderly and those with limited mobility. There’s a world of voice-controlled possibilities out there.