‘Alexa, what’s the news?’
‘Alexa, what’s the weather forecast today?’
‘Alexa, turn down the thermostat to 18 degrees and turn off the front light. Alexa, also put on BBC Radio 1.’
This is my new morning ritual as I head downstairs for my breakfast. It’s become a pattern as I chow down on a bowl of cornflakes and knock back my first morning coffee.
Alexa gives me the Sky News morning snapshot. She then plays me the BBC Minute with breaking news. She then plays me the Sky Sports update. Typically, if it’s a new report, she’ll finish with something from the Economist.
Then she tells me what the current weather is and what I can expect from the day ahead. If I want a weekend forecast, I’ll ask her and she’ll tell me that too.
She also turns down my heating, because I don’t need it on during the day. And because my wife typically has the front light on in the morning when she leaves the house, I get Alexa to turn it off.
The battle of the smart home starts with two
Before you start to think we’ve got some live-in housekeeper, let me correct you. We don’t. Alexa is the ‘intelligence’ inside my Amazon Echo. Echo is the central hub to my slowly evolving smart home.
Echo is a white cylindrical speaker about 23 cm high and about 8 cm in diameter. It has a 7-microphone array so that it can hear me just about anywhere in the house. I’ve tried to defeat her hearing too. I’ve spoken to Alexa from upstairs and can still hear her performing tasks for me. In fact, I’m pretty sure she hears better than I do.
Then the other day I was fussing about getting ready to go out. Shortly before I was ready to leave I said, ‘Alexa, get me a ride.’ Alexa then confirmed with me that I wanted an Uber X to pick me up from my location. I confirmed and she told me an Uber was confirmed and on its way.
Then last night my wife got home late. We couldn’t be bothered cooking. So I said to Alexa, ‘Alexa, ask Just-Eat to re-order my last Chinese.’ The last Chinese order we’d placed through Just-Eat was dialled up and sent out for delivery.
I’ve had my Echo, and Alexa, for just over a week now. I’ve got her connected to my lights, heating, Uber, Spotify, Just-Eat, and Google calendar. That’s on top of all the normal stuff she can do. Normal stuff includes general knowledge, maths equations, weather forecasts, one-click ordering through Amazon, and even interesting facts about cats.
While this is helpful, she also helps to save me money. By regulating some of my smart switches, she saves power when I’m not around. She helps my Nest thermostat to learn, so that it heats the house efficiently. Even if it helps me save 10% on my bills per year, it’s paid for itself and then some.
Echo is just the beginning of consumer smart homes. Amazon was quick to beat the other big tech companies, Google and Apple, to the market. But Google’s fighting back.
Google released their own version of Echo this week. They call it Google Home. It’s basically the same thing as Echo, in a different suit.
Google Home can obviously connect to a range of smart devices. Like Echo, you can place a couple of them throughout the house and they can work in sync. You can also link them to other platforms like Uber, takeaway restaurants, traffic, calendars, whatever you like really.
So far only Amazon and Google have put out hardware that’s a central ‘hub’ to the smart home. This is a battle of two, for now.
Apple foes have their ‘Homekit’ platform. But they are yet to release any hardware to centrally control it all. I expect that to change in the next 12 months. I think we’ll see Apple accelerating the release of their version of Echo and Home, or they’ll lose the battle of the smart homes.
Is it weird? Or is it the future that’s now reality?
Now you might consider this to be an indulgence. You might even think it’s a little lazy. Perhaps just flat out weird. After all, is it really that hard to turn off a light or to turn down a thermostat? Is it really difficult to go online and order some takeaway or grab an Uber?
Well no, it’s not. And to be fair my wife still thinks Alexa is just another ‘speaker’.
By the way you’ll notice I revert to calling ‘her’ Alexa more than Echo. This is because it’s feels more like a person than a thing. Again this might sound foreign or weird to you. Just wait until you use one, you’ll understand pretty quickly.
This technology isn’t new, though. It’s been coming for a few years now. In fact on the 10th of June 2014 I wrote about it:
‘Imagine you’re ready to go to bed. Right now you’d turn off the TV, switch off the lights, make sure the garage door is closed and the front door locked. You’d probably spend five to 10 minutes stuffing around to make sure everything is as it should be before you get a good night’s sleep.
Now think of that process in a different way. Imagine being ready for bed, simply saying into your phone, ‘I’m going to bed,’ and the whole process is automated for you. That means the TV turns off, the lights dim and eventually turn off, the front door locks and the garage door closes. All this with one voice command.’
At the time I was writing about Apple’s Homekit. Apple had just launched the platform at their developer conference. And here we are just two short years later, with far more advanced ‘smart home’ technology.
I’ve seen this trend coming for over four years now. The last two years in particular this has really started to expand exponentially. Smart home devices are increasingly accessible. They’re affordable, and they’re easy to use. And perhaps the most important part, they work.
It’s all part of a bigger trend I call ‘immersive technology’. It’s seen me add 11 ‘immersive technology’ stocks to my investment service, Revolutionary Tech Investor, since we started talking about this back in 2013.
Of those immersive technology stocks, the best performer is up 334%. The worst is down 50%. And of the remaining nine, two are showing a loss (-2.09% and -14.29%) and seven are in the black. Numbers like that speak to the strength of this trend. You can find out more about Revolutionary Tech Investor here.
The immersive technology trend is one of those trends that investors can easily profit from. But it’s not companies like Amazon or Google that will deliver returns like 334% in the next few years. It’s the companies that develop the technology that goes into devices like Echo or Home that offer the real potential.
It’s the old ‘picks & shovels’ argument all over. Is it better to be the company that sells the dug up gold, or the company that sells the picks and shovels to dig it up?
Some would say the gold. For me, it’s the picks and shovels. And in a world of immersive technology there are a lot of great picks & shovels changing the shape of our home lives. That means a lot of opportunities that you could profit from.
Editor, Money Morning