Amazon Alexa on course for smart home domination with the adoption of Zigbee

posted on Tuesday, 3rd October 2017 by Steve May

Amazon Echo  Alexa  Smart home  Zigbee 

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The latest wave of Alexa-enabled products represent Amazon’s biggest play yet for the control of smart home market. That’s the view of market analyst IHS Markit.

The redesigned entry level Echo boasts improved audio quality and has improved second-generation far field voice recognition. To better fit with interiors, it has a compact fabric-covered form factor, with interchangeable cosmetic shells, while the second generation Echo Plus combines the original Echo form factor with a ZigBee smart home hub, and is bundled with a Philips Hue light bulb.

Using the Echo Plus, users will be able to discover ZigBee and Wi-Fi devices in the home, without the need for additional apps or skills. This effectively removes the need for owners to know the brand of smart device they are trying to control, as well as the specific skill required to drive it. It also enables more conversational voice control.

“Although this sounds like a very modest update, consider when a consumer has 20 plus devices in the home, half of which require the user to remember the brand or Skill name. Moreover, it can be confusing for a consumer to know when the brand or special phrase is needed to interact with a device,” states the research company.

Currently an invocation name is required with all custom skills. In addition to the invocation name, a supported phrase must be used. There are exceptions. Philips Hue doesn’t require an invocation word because Philips used the Smart Home Skill API, not the Alexa Skills Kit.

There is a caveat though. When Echo Plus automatically discovers ZigBee devices, such as Philips Hue bulbs, the full feature set of the device is not available. In order to have the full features of Philips Hue lighting, a Philips Hue Bridge is required.

The ability to control smart home devices through auto-discovery on the Echo Plus puts the Amazon on the same footing as rival smart home controllers, such as Samsung SmartThings.

Echo Plus Black Nightstand Main

“While routines can now be created with Alexa-devices, a new and much needed feature, adding devices and setting triggers to these routines will not likely be a smooth process with voice-only,” says IHS markit. “Instead, a combination of voice and a display will be necessary for a better user experience – especially for users that are not sure what routines or scenes they can create.”

The market for Smart speakers is hotting up. Sonos is expected to release a digital assistant agnostic speaker that uses Apple Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and the number of Google Home products is expected to boom.

However these won’t dent Amazon’s dominance. Amazon can currently control about 24 million smart home devices (roughly 9 million more devices than the nearest competitor). According to IHS Markit, there will be about 4.8 million do-it-yourself hubs shipped globally in 2017. “Amazon should be able to gain market share quickly, but the likes of SmartThings and Wink will be difficult to overtake in the short-term.”

“The smart home is becoming tangible,” Steve Potter, Founder and CEO of home technology specialist Netatmo told Inside CI. “Interoperability platforms such as Apple HomeKit or Amazon Echo are contributing to the quickening pace of market growth. Next step is the integration of Artificial Intelligence within the home infrastructure to offer new functionalities to users. Building product industry leaders are now working jointly with innovative companies: by integrating IoT technologies to their existing product offer, they’re able to develop solutions that address the consumer needs.”

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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