Ever since the rise of smarthome technology and smart speakers like the Echo, companies have gone out of their way to add voice control to pretty much anything and everything, and it needs to stop.
Don’t get me wrong, voice control is great to have for a lot of things, like adjusting the thermostat, playing music, or simply wanting to know what the weather will be like today without fishing for your phone. The problem is when using voice commands is no easier or quicker than using old-fashioned means. Let’s go over some examples.
Plex, Alexa, and You
I recently installed Plex Media Server and was blown away by how awesome it is. Then I found out that you can control playback using Alexa and my mind exploded. However, that excitement only lasted a short while.
Turns out, controlling Plex using your voice really isn’t all that useful, and it’s honestly easier just to use the damn remote. For example, here’ a recent conversation I had with Alexa:
Me: "Alexa, tell Plex to continue watching Breaking Bad." Alexa: "It looks like you were in the middle of Breaking Bad Season 4 Episode 1: Box Cutter. Would you like to continue watching it?" Me: "Yes, obviously!" Alexa: "OK!"
Honestly, I could’ve already been watching it before I even finished my original voice command if I had just used the remote. You can also adjust volume and play or pause video content, but again, it’s just easier to use the remote for that kind of stuff.
I can see voice control with Plex being sort of useful if you have a particular movie or TV show in mind, but are too lazy to scroll through the menus to find it. However, that’s usually never the case for me, as I end up just scrolling through everything until I find something that looks appealing to watch.
Alexa, Turn the Faucet On
Perhaps one of the most interesting products that comes with Alexa capabilities is this kitchen faucet from Delta. So not only can you turn the water on by touching the faucet (or using the old-fashioned handle like a chump), you can now tell Alexa to turn it on.
I assume this is a great feature to have if your hands are dirty and don’t want to touch the faucet to crank it on, but how often is that really a problem? The backs of hands still work great to turn water faucets on, especially thanks to those easy levers that most kitchen faucets have these days.
However, I can’t be too critical of the thing, as you can also tell Alexa to dispense a specific amount of water from the faucet, which is kinda cool I guess if you’re filling up a pot and don’t want to wait for it.
Still, though, I feel like a product like this solves an extremely first-world problem that never really existed, especially if you can already just touch the faucet to turn it on and off. And for a price of $550, it’s a hard pill to swallow.
By way of drawing a comparison, Delta also has a voice-controlled shower system in the works. Being able to tell your shower to heat up to the right temperature before you even get out of bed is a much more compelling use of the feature.
Just Use a Button or Light Switch
I have most of my smarthome devices linked to Alexa. Some devices are really convenient to control via voice, but most of the time it’s just easier and quicker to use a light switch or button of some kind.
For example, I have my space heater hooked up to a smart plug, which is then connected to Alexa. I just say “Alexa, turn the heater on/off” whenever I need to. But honestly, it would just be a lot easier and quicker if I used one of these—all I’d need to is press a button to toggle the heater on and off.
The same thing goes for lights. When I walk into a room, I’m not about to yell “Alexa, turn the lights on” and then wait for a second or two for the room to light up. Instead, I’m hitting the light switch like a normal person.
In the End, Voice Control Is Just an Alternative
Don’t me wrong, voice control is cool and all, and I still use it for a lot of things (it’s also a cool party trick when we have guests over). However, it’s just not all that great for it to be the main way to control various things in my house.
If your hands are full or you’re sitting on the couch and don’t want to get up to adjust the lights, then yeah, voice control is great for that. And maybe that’s the whole point of adding voice control to everything? It may not necessarily be meant as the #1 way to control smarthome devices, but it’s at least there if you want it in times where it could prove convenient.
With that said, I suppose there’s no harm in companies adding voice control to devices in the grand scheme of things, but it boils down to integrating it well and making it convenient and easy to use (let alone getting it to work well in the first place). Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case in a lot of products.