Most consumers want smart speakers to listen more, not less

Despite the privacy concerns of smart speaker — and the general creep factor when they start laughing for no reason — two-thirds of consumers want the devices to listen more often, not less.

This is the finding of a survey which asked 6,000 consumers about their thoughts on smart home technology. It found that 66 percent of consumers would be interested in a smart speaker (with an assistant like Alexa or Siri) which listened and interacted with them more often. Just 12 percent of consumers reacted negatively to the idea, while 21 percent were unsure.

The survey was commissioned by Audio Analytic, an AI sound recognition company, and collected the thoughts of 6,000 consumers split equally between the US and UK.

An example of how a smart speaker might interact more is it switching on an air purifier when it hears someone sneeze on a day with high pollen levels. Another example suggested by the survey is how the virtual assistant would alert its owner to the sound of someone knocking at the door, or the noise of a blaring smoke alarm.

Almost everyone asked - 90 percent — said they wanted their smart speakers to do more. This is particularly interesting, as another recent survey found smart speaker owners are mostly only doing very basic things with Alexa and the Google Assistant. For example, it was found that 65 percent mostly use the devices for music, and 50 percent primarily ask them to read out news headlines and the weather forecast.

Dr Chris Mitchell, CEO and founder of Audio Analytic, said: "Voice recognition, music services, and kitchen timers are great but are no longer enough in such a competitive space. By being able to recognize and react to important sounds in their environment, smart speakers and other smart home devices could offer many more services – for example enhancing home security by reacting automatically to the sound of a window breaking or smoke alarm sounding, and ultimately greater peace of mind for consumers."

The gateway drug of smart homes

The smart speaker has become something of a gateway drug for first-time smart home builders. The survey found that 65 percent of smart speaker owners plan to buy a smart lock in the next 12 months. The figure was 63 percent for smart lighting, 56 percent for a smart doorbell and 52 percent for a smart security camera.

These findings suggest smart home companies across the industry will see their sales increase if the popularity of speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home range continues.

That said, more security-critical devices like smart locks are proving less popular. The survey found that 17 percent of smart speaker owners are considering a smart lock in the next 12 months; for people who do not yet own a smart speaker, that figure falls to just four percent.

...and they want their smart home to protect them

Smart home safety and security systems are popular requests from consumers. Almost 80 percent of respondents said they are "likely or very likely" to give permission for smart home devices to monitor the safety and security of their property and possessions - but only as long as privacy concerns were met.

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Almost all respondents (90 percent) who own a smart speaker or intend to buy one soon said they wanted the device to listen out for safety and security sounds in the home, like the blaring of a smoke alarm.

Health monitoring is also something consumers want, with 59 percent of those who already own a smart home device saying they are "likely or very likely" to give devices permission to monitor their health.

Providing any concerns they have over privacy could be met, 63 percent of consumers with child aged under 16 are "likely or very likely" to give smart home devices permission to monitor the health and well being of the family. This would be done, according to the parameters of the survey, by detecting the sounds of coughing and sneezing within the home.