The era of truly pervasive media, where consumption – and control – flow around the home with its inhabitants, thanks to smart home technologies and AI is just around the corner, and the opportunity to create and deliver new services to support this is considerable.
Pervasive entertainment, or entertainment untethered and unencumbered by time, location and reality, has been gestating for some time. But new technology and innovation is on the cusp of delivering on not only the promise of entertainment delivered when, where and how you want it, but also provide a single point of control for a host of smart home systems and services. The single point of control is arriving fast.
This development is being powered by a host of major brands, including Amazon and Google (the latter’s Smart Display products, in partnership with Lenovo, JBL, LG and Sony) working together to harness the power of centralised smart home controls and pervasive media.
One particular strand of innovation is around the birth of the AI-integrated ‘third screens’ that are rapidly augmenting smart speakers as the smart home media centre of choice. That’s one reason why companies are starting to add screens to the next generation of home assistants.
Speaking to MIT Technology Review, Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, also points out that, while a 2016 study by Stanford researchers and his own team showed that speech input is three times quicker than typing on mobile devices, “the fastest way for a machine to get information to you is via a screen”.
These smart displays not only respond to your voice commands, but they also have a usable screen, on which you can watch videos and make video calls, as well as immediately view information.
The Amazon Echo Show introduced the category to the mainstream last summer, and the trend is certainly continuing apace. There are several interesting elements to this category, on top of the faster and easier access to information, but the central theme is one of unification, of control.
Not only can internet-connected data sources be queried via voice commands, but so can any compatible smart home device be controlled, potentially by voice but also augmented by more granular touchscreen controls.
One of the shortcomings of pure-play voice control is the requirement for a call-and-response interaction, a binary control, which for adjusting volume or other logarithmic or linear controls can be a lengthy process.
This enhanced visual and voice-controlled point of contact in the home (alongside the ever-present smartphone) has begun to change the way in which media is consumed, as well as the way in which consumers expect to manage their devices.
For example, the established phenomenon of second screen use has evolved significantly over recent years. The Google Consumer Barometer Report, a five-year study that includes 625 thousand interviews with consumers around the world, found that three-quarters of the British population use a connected device while watching TV, a trend that rises to 93% in the under 25 age range.
Overall, in the UK, three in four people now use a smartphone – a number that has nearly doubled in five years, with the average Briton using 3.3 internet-connected devices.
Of course, the big screen itself has become increasingly ‘smart’ as TV manufacturers – and TV peripheral vendors – seek to own part of this smart home control relationship.
The new features include smart screens offering differentiation in an increasingly crowded marketplace. From Samsung’s upcoming integration of Bixby, its AI product, into smart TVs, through to the manufacturers of TV sound bars and systems such as Sonos, which recently embedded Amazon Alexa into the new Sonos Beam, the battle for user attention is far from over.
Deutsche Telekom has been tracking the market with avidity and has integrated Amazon and Google smart home functionality already, as well as planning to launch its own smart speaker during 2018 too.
These increasingly intelligent devices are designed to make our lives easier, keeping us informed about the weather, playing our favourite music and even running our home for us.
Integrating seamlessly with smart home security cameras is an obviously desirable use case for large and small screens alike, while sounding an alert and displaying a video feed from a smart doorbell in a split screen format is another desirable essential.
The increasing dominance of VoD (video on demand) solutions that allow for split screen alerts, multi-room viewing and restart watching from different devices is also compelling evidence of the pervasive media trend. From Sky to Netflix, Spotify to the BBC’s iPlayer, these facilities are a fixture of today and tomorrow.
Providing a clear and simple entry point to the smart home has already been a proven success story, and this new category perhaps exemplifies the consumer benefits of a single, simple point of control.
In addition, the ecosystem that is visible today will continue to evolve along these lines, delivering ever-more flexible content and entertainment alongside better and more powerful information and smart home controls.
Pervasive entertainment and smart home control are deeply integrated, both in the present and future…