What's it like using smart speakers in the PH?

The year 2018 is shaping up to be the year of even more smart home assistants. There were a number of new, anticipated devices that were announced an this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and a lot of them upped the ante by introducing smart display screens in a market of smart speakers. It looks like the voice assistants are here to stay. (READ: Digital assistants duel for dominance at CES 2018)

The big players are still Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. Both have extended their reach across the Pacific to a number of Asian countries, prompting some to consider bringing a different sort of household help.

But what exactly can these devices offer us here in the Philippines other than casually requesting for a song in Spotify? Watching all these voice assistants work in countries like the United States will leave you impressed because for the most part, they have more access to smart devices able to interface with these digital helpers. Telling these assistants to adjust, for instance, a house's thermostat is turning out to be a more fun way to do it than waving another remote control wand.

But how's the experience here in the Philippines where these products haven't been officially launched? 

Basic smart home conveniences

Pedro Tison has furnished his Quezon City home with some smart implementations. Mr. Tison has always been interested in home automation and he put this to practical use after his father’s operation. He says, ”I thought having some sort of automation to control lights and fans in their room would be useful.”

And it’s pretty nice. Mr. Tison shared a video of his living room set-up on Facebook powered by Google Home.

These days, why would you walk over towards an electric fan to turn it on when you can just use your vocal chords? He shares his personal favorite custom feature, “I set it to respond to I'm Home to switch the light on temporarily for 5 minutes and eventually shut off. It gives me just enough time to get water from the fridge.”

Of course, you can’t ignore the integration of Google’s best product into their smart speakers: Search. It’s much appreciated when you’re in the kitchen and can’t figure out what to substitute for cumin. Even the standard hypochondriac will get their WebMD and MayoClinic tidbit fix if they ask.

It may have been Alexa who came into the market first, but when a person wants to know something, our society tends to default to Google for answers. Between this and the current location-based limitations over Amazon’s products and content, one could say that Google Home would be the smart speaker of choice here in the Philippines despite looking like an essential oil diffuser.

Both Google Home and Alexa are compatible with a vast range of third-party services and devices. Installing little nifty objects into your home doesn’t have to cost a lot. Mr. Tison’s set-up for the living room cost him P1100 each for Yeelight smart bulbs and P500 each for Wi-Fi sockets. A Chromecast device, which essentially makes any USB-equipped TV "smarter," costs around P2500, while the Google Home Mini officially retails for $49. 

More Filipinos are sharing their experiences with the smart devices on Facebook groups. There's one for Google Home, and another for Amazon Echo. There aren't a lot of members yet, which hints that the smart speaker movement is still in its infancy in the country. But it's there, and these are the early adopters trying to experience the whole thing – even if the products aren't yet officially launched and supported in the Philippines. 

Reshaping your home life

I myself, am a Google Home user in the Philippines. 

My favorite part has been the ability to control my TV with it. I mean, what are smart speakers good for if they don’t work seamlessly with your smart televisions? You reap extended benefits if you have a Chromecast or the Amazon equivalent, Fire TV, to fraternize with your speakers. “Hey, Google. Play The Crown on Bedroom TV,” has become my favorite phrase because it’s all I have ever said for two weeks and Assistant doesn’t even stop to pass judgment. 

If the TV is off, Assistant turns it on and starts up Netflix to pick up where I royally left off. Like the queen, I never have to pick up a remote for this activity.

The fun only lasts though until my toddler has given her own command to play “Ryan’s Toys Review” on Youtube and hijack my cast.

As I curse under my breath, I make a mental note to enable Voice Match (a feature that links a voice to a specific Google account) on my Assistant settings – to avoid the inherent hassles of having one of my kids making appointments under my Google Calendar and control my life even more.

Another favorite thing: Having Google read me my to-do list. This eliminates the need for me to view a to-do list on my phone which I never get to hold anyway during a really busy domestic day.

Room for improvement

With devices like these, you can’t define its limitations until the moment you ask for something that you don’t get to have. You can add new skills to Alexa, and Google Assistant always insists that it is working hard to understanding sarcasm. We’ll also know more about Siri’s HomePod capabilities in February and how Samsung’s Bixby subsequently compares.

Right now, I can ask Google about real-time traffic situations while begrudgingly still using my fingers to book a car service from my phone. Unfortunately, Uber or Grab integration with Assistant isn’t supported yet in the Philippines, and we’re patiently waiting for the day we can dictate our pizza delivery order and personal problems to an “always listening” butler.

Google Assistant is largely useless offline and you can even argue that it’s only as good as your Internet service. When our service provider had connection problems in our area, Assistant would repeat to me every 30 minutes that it “couldn’t find the Internet.” This is a stark reminder for some that having the ability to control Wi-Fi-connected light switches mean very little fun if your internet isn't stable enough to stream your favorite podcast.

Many homes in the Philippines are already pretty dependent on the Internet, which means you can just prop up a smart speaker somewhere in your house and let things fall into place. The small and discreet conveniences are appreciated, integrating effortlessly into your daily flow. It's cool, fantastic, and for those who have been spoiled by it, a new luxury. – Rappler.com