Multilingual home automation A race to the top
A voice is all you need. A voice will allow you to turn on and off your home’s lights, operate your shades, manage security systems, adjust your home’s temperature settings, start and stop your home’s appliances, play your favorite songs, and even order your morning’s coffee from your local café – provided you have the right app, and speak the right language.
Home automation’s global rise in popularity
Smart homes are increasing in popularity around the globe. Today, around a quarter of North American homes operate with some type of home automation, and this percentage is expected to rise to well over 40 percent in the coming years. Each part of the world in fact, will see a sharp spike in smart home penetration by the year 2022.
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The heat is on with Amazon, Apple, and Google
Among its long list of capabilities, Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated voice assistant, can also control a multitude of smart devices when used as a home automation system. Previously only available in Canada, Germany, India, Japan, the United States, and the UK, Amazon’s line of smart speakers, including Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus – which all connect to Alexa – are now available in over 80 countries around the world. And although Alexa is now able to speak English, German, Japanese, and French, its international version only speaks English. In addition to these linguistic limitations, international Alexa’s “generally supported features” are restricted to:
- News and information
- To do/shopping lists, and;
- Weather updates
But what good are these features if the consumers operating the system don’t speak English?
Another issue is interoperability. Although Alexa can be used as a home automation system, compatible with a great many manufacturers including Belkin, Ecobee, Geeni, IFTTT, LIFX, LightwaveRF, Nest, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Wink, and Yonomi just to name a few, does the average consumer really want a dozen apps to manage a dozen different areas in the home? Complicating things even further is the language challenge – Alexa might speak a few languages now, but how language-savvy are these compatible products, and can they all be programmed to understand one another in the language of choice?
Google may just have found Amazon’s Achille’s heel when it comes to language availability
Currently available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and the United States, Google Home is now expanding into Denmark, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. With the capacity of controlling over 1,000 smart home devices, Google Home certainly gives Amazon a run for its money.Google may just have found Amazon’s Achille’s heel when it comes to language availability. Home currently supports English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and more recently, Spanish. Google Assistant on the other hand, is on track to support 30 languages by the end of 2019 which the company says will eventually carry over to the Home line as well. But it isn’t as simple as announcing a whole slew of available languages. Language support greatly depends on where the products are being ordered, the availability of products based on the region, and which other home-automated devices are being used.
According to a Google Home representative, the company plans on adding more languages based on the location where Google Home will be officially launched. However, being that the company is in high-stakes competition with its rival, Amazon, Google does not give any advanced notification regarding future plans until the official launch date is scheduled.
Is your home bilingual? Would you like to be able to communicate with your voice-activated assistant in both languages that your family speaks? With advances in speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and neural networks, multilingual capabilities for your home-automated devices are becoming more and more of a reality. Perhaps Google’s “Home Bilingual”, is a prime example. A relatively new Google service, “Home Bilingual” allows homes to take any two available languages and pair them. Google Assistant will then be able to converse interchangeably in these two languages.
But, just as with Amazon, there are some limitations. Google’s home speakers, Home, Home Mini, and Home Max, which all operate with an internal Google Assistant, are not available around the globe. In fact, the global reach for at least one of the speakers is quite limited. Google Home Max is only available in Canada and the United States (with the exception of Puerto Rico). Home Mini has a much more extensive reach, allowing consumers in 12 different countries to access its products and services, and Google’s Home is now available in 13 countries.
When it comes to interoperability, Google Home has tried to face this challenge head on with Nest, owned by Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company. Nest offers automated home devices that control your home’s temperature, alarm system, interior and exterior cameras, and more. But even if all Nest home-automated systems communicate with one another, they still require a number of outside manufacturers that offer products compatible with Nest. Some of these manufacturers include Chamberlain, Whirlpool, and Philips Hue. All of these devices face the same interoperability challenges, not to mention possible language barriers for a growing international consumer base.
But don’t count Apple out of the running
Apple’s HomeKit, the software framework that users set up on their iOS device, configures, communicates, and controls smart home devices including lights, appliances, thermostats, music, security systems, and more. HomeKit can either operate using an iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, or through Apple’s relatively new wireless speaker, HomePod. All of these channels can be activated with Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri.
Although Siri, which is built into the HomePod, is now capable of speaking over 20 languages, HomePod is limited to English, French (Canada), and Spanish (USA, Mexico, and Spain). HomePod is also limited to sales and installation in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and the United States.
When it comes to interoperability, HomeKit is now compatible with more than 50 brands worldwide, including Honeywell, Adobe Iota, Beddi, Belkin, Chamberlain, Ecobee, and Crestron products and services. But Apple faces the same interoperability challenges as all other contenders. Time and again, surveys have shown that consumers prioritize the interoperability of their smart home devices, and since Amazon and Google products are very popular, manufacturers often cater to these platforms – and that might mean that Apple has to work twice as hard to stay in the race.
Multilingual support might just be the name of the game
With the three top-runners all competing to be number one in the international home automation market, one differentiator seems to be emerging – multilingual support. The multilingual challenge however, isn’t as easy as simply “adding” another language. Languages come with unique nuances, dialects, and idioms which are all subject to change based on the region in which the language is spoken. And while interoperability, cost, privacy, and security all remain challenges to overcome, companies that are quick to offer a plethora of languages to a growing global audience will undoubtedly rise to the top
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