Smart Speakers and Clocks

Traditionally, most rooms in a house have not had information devices in them. Some rooms may have a TV and some may have a radio. However other than that, most rooms do not have any installed equipment that enables the residents to quickly get information.

There is one exception however, and that is clocks. Many rooms have clocks either hanging on the wall or sitting on a mantelpiece. Clocks provide information that is vital for modern life (“what time is it?”) with a mere glance, and they are so useful that people put them in their bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, home offices, and sometimes even in their toilets.

I wonder if the best way to think about Smart Speakers and the utility that they may bring to the home, is to compare them to these clocks. Can Smart Speakers provide the same benefit that we get from clocks around the house? Is the information that Smart Speakers may provide as important as telling the time? Why do we still need wall clocks when we can easily wear wrist watches instead? Does the UI need to be distilled to a simple glance instead of a voice UI?

If you adopt this viewpoint, then I think you can naturally arrive at the following conclusions.

  1. People generally don’t need too much information in the house. The time is a rare case of something that we often need to know in multiple rooms.
  2. If the information is important and frequently needed, then people will want to put devices in multiple rooms instead of relying on a watch or a smartphone that they carry around with them.
  3. People will prefer to get the information through a simple glance. A voice UI may be too inconvenient. For example, instead of a smart speaker that can tell you the weather when asked, a wall clock with a display showing this will probably end up being more useful.