Music is important for a productive communal space. A great audio system lets anyone in the space contribute and control what’s playing.

As a tech company it only seemed fitting that the solution would be something a little more sophisticated than an FM radio!

How do you mix music and technology in 2018? With smart speakers.

It was a close call between the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, but in the end we went with the Home for a number of reasons;

 

The Google Assistant

At the end of the day there’s no point having a smart speaker if it isn’t smart! I like the potential of voice driven interfaces; it allows anyone to talk to the speaker and ask it for music. They don’t need to connect or login or setup; there aren’t any barriers to playing music. It feels more spontaneous, more natural… but only if the assistant powering the speaker understands you.

The concept of conversational interactions with something that isn’t a human is still a new concept for most people. If you are going to expect people to change their behaviour it’s never going to happen if the experience is frustrating. If you ask the assistant to play some music it needs to just work, and from my experience the Google assistant is still the best nine times out of ten.

 

Group Audio

The plan was to use a number of satellite speakers around the office space so that there could be a blanket of sound coverage instead of one loud source. But how do you make all the speakers play the same thing at the same time? You can add multiple homes into an audio group.

You can still talk to any of the speakers in the group separately, but if you set the group as the default output for music then it plays across all the speakers. We use an office Spotify account for our daily listening and currently the Google home is the only speaker system that lets you stream from Spotify to a group. But we’re not just tied to Spotify, there’s the option to use bluetooth, but more importantly the cast system that lets anyone jump onto the group and play DJ from a number of different apps.

 

Audio Quality

This one was a little bit of a closer call between the Home and the Echo. I would say that the Google Home leans towards being bass heavier which I thought would work nicely in an office environment; cutting through the mid frequency of conversation and air conditioning. Both speakers have decent audio quality, the Google Home just managed to do it in a smaller, less obtrusive package.

 

The Potential

So far I’ve only really talked about music, and that is important for the office space, but it’s only a starting point. The devices aren’t just streaming music, they’re connected to the Internet and while the IoT (Internet of Things) is still a budding technology there’s the potential for the smart speakers to be audio interface to all of our technology.

Almost all of our infrastructure exists as a network or contributes to one. Today, through the speakers the assistant can do general things like stream music, but what if it could become part of our office workflow? We’ve already made some progress; we ran an intern project setting up our first voice app and connecting it to our build pipeline.

Now we can deploy a new build of our web apps just by asking the assistant. It’s the first step to simplifying everyday tasks that will let us concentrate on the creation process. The nice thing about having a connected device means that the possibilities will expand over time.