All businesses benefit from assistance from time to time. From a coffee run to invoicing, business owners love to be able to outsource some of the workload to someone else.
But what if that someone else was Artificial Intelligence?
Skeptics’ fears of AI range from it becoming too powerful to the exact opposite—that it is not yet powerful enough to be useful.
You may already be familiar with AI devices if you use Siri or Google Assistant on your smartphone. If not, they’re a great way to test how you get along with smart systems.
In this article, we’ll take the power of AI one step further by looking at new smart speaker (also known as smart home or voice assistant) devices.
Smart Home Functions Have Business Potential
Let’s begin with an overview of the main virtual assistant apps most useful for your business. We’ll then delve a little deeper, flushing out some of the product-specific Easter Eggs.
• Scheduling & Reminders
One of the features of any good smart speaker is the ability to organize your calendar. When setting an appointment, your smart speaker has an internal checklist to make sure you provide all of the necessary information.
What you may not know is that your smart speaker can automatically update the calendar on your phone as well. This is an ideal way of ensuring all your appointments are stored on the device you carry everywhere.
Similarly, setting timers, stopwatches and alarms can all be used to keep track of, well . . . time. And with the convenience of doing all this hands-free, smart speakers make things effortless.
• Internet Searches
We all turn to Google for answers throughout the day. Rather than stop what you’re working on, turn to your smart speaker for help. Their microphones are strong so you can say a query to them from across the room without any problem.
Amazon Echo’s search function is good, but unsurprisingly, Google Home excels at Internet searches. The Home’s system of grabbing the top result and reading you the first line or two can be a great time-saver—particularly if your job happens to be writing trivia questions!
One drawback of Google’s system, however, is that it stops reading from the source after a couple of lines.
All too often, this tantalizes you with nearly enough information but ultimately leaves you needing to use a computer to find out more.
You can use Google Home and Amazon Echo to make calls or send messages (available in the US, with other locations coming soon). Connecting calls and dictating messages is a very useful feature for busy businesses, and the sophisticated speech-to-text software can be trained to understand your voice. Additionally, you can use the Amazon Echo to make Echo-to-Echo calls from all devices (including phones with the Alexa app).
• Travel Times
Finding routes and travel times, particularly on public transit, is another great AI feature that you might find useful for your business, especially if you frequently travel across town to clients or customers.
Both Amazon and Google can tell you your commute time with a quick query. But when it comes to public transportation, Google Maps will tell you an exact route in most cities using the tech giant’s mapping software. Meanwhile, the Echo relies on ‘Skills’—its equivalent of apps—which don’t quite match Google’s power.
Perhaps you find in-office music helps to motivate your staff or stimulate buyers in your shop. For a similar price to a regular speaker system, a smart speaker will access your existing music library. Both Amazon and Google offer a wide variety of choices ranging from Spotify to Deezer.
One drawback is the devices mostly champion subscription services.
Echo beats Home here, as it also allows you to upload music you own to your MyMusic library on Amazon. You can also ask for radio stations by simply saying the call name or frequency and the Echo will play the station from IHeartRadio.
• Updates & Pricing
With software that updates regularly with additional functionality, these devices are fairly futureproofed.
Because of their popularity, third-party developers also release new apps for existing devices all the time, and most are free. This is good news for business owners who want to increase the devices’ functionality without having to shell out for new options all the time.
It’s also worth noting that both Google and Amazon have a wide range of AI products that cover multiple price points, usually starting as low as $30.
More affordable versions of their products guarantee them maximum reach, while the higher-end offerings provide better speakers and increased functionality.
• Google Assistant
With vast quantities of data at its fingertips, and a plethora of devices outside of their speaker range (from phones to smart thermostats), Google’s offering is smart, adaptable, and good at finding the information you want.
Google Home is also king of Easter Eggs, with hidden gems ranging from games to jokes or riddles on request. There’s also a pretty good trivia quiz, which is engaging and also quite funny.
If you want to cook with Google Home, simply say what you’re hungry for—‘Okay Google, find me a lasagna recipe’—and it launches a comprehensive cooking program. The great thing about this is the way it breaks things down into stages and steps. No external app required.
• Amazon Echo
With a year’s headstart on Google Home (released in September 2015), Amazon Echo does certain things better. The Skills are far more numerous than Google Home’s apps, and going to the extensive store can be a fun way of picking out whether Echo is right for you.
Also, it has neat tricks of its own, like tracking your Amazon packages and the ability to reorder items from the online retail giant. That means Amazon Echo could give the edge to your business’ delivery schedule and stockroom. Check out these hacks to enhance your Echo in other neat ways.
Echo comes in a greater variety of shapes and sizes, particularly in the USA. Amazon tailored the Echo Show, Echo Look, and Echo Dot to different target audiences, and two of these devices (the Look and the Show) were the first to incorporate integrated cameras and screens.
• Apple Homepod (Available Early 2018)
Apple’s Homepod will reportedly be available in early 2018. It will feature their Siri virtual assistant software and boasts similar features to its competitors. It will have Apple Music available, which, in their own words, is ‘like having a musicologist who helps you discover every song you’d ever want to hear’.
It’s undeniable that virtual personal assistants offer an ever-expanding array of functionality.
At their best, these products offer a sense of immediacy and convenience. Whether it’s finding information quickly from the other side of the room, or setting a reminder for an appointment while your hands are in the sink, smart speakers make things a little easier around the home or office. And with all of these inexpensive options, there’s never been a better time to hire your own ‘personal assistant’ today.