People midlife and older can simplify many everyday tasks using smart speakers. Smart speakers allow older adults to use voice commands instead of tapping commands on a smartphone or tablet touchscreen or typing on a computer keyboard. Smart speakers can be extremely useful and fun to use.
With a smart speaker, you can:
- Play music or news from many popular networks and internet audio streaming services
- Play podcasts (recordings of audio programming)
- Set reminders to take medication
- Call for emergency assistance
- Create calendar appointments and check your schedule
- Send a text message
- Maintain your shopping list
- Control your smart home devices
While some privacy concerns regarding smart speakers exist, you can reduce these by taking a few precautions.
In this post, we’ll discuss the essential benefits for older adults of having one or more smart speakers in the home. We’ll also provide resources for learning more about smart speakers and minimizing privacy concerns when using them.
What are smart speakers, and what do they do?
Smart speakers are wireless, internet-connected speakers with built-in microphones. They listen for and perform spoken commands using an integrated digital assistant. These assistants use artificial intelligence (AI) to understand your spoken commands and perform the requested task.
By using Bluetooth and wifi in your home or office, your smart speaker connects with the internet and online streaming services for music, news, sports, podcasts, and other audio programming.
Smart speakers are also highly useful for connecting and interacting with other internet-connected devices you may have in your home. Examples include a smart home thermostat, smart electric socket plugs, smart light bulbs, and other connected devices, often referred to as the internet of things (IoT).
You can also use one or more smart speakers in your home for calling emergency contacts. If you have fallen, become otherwise incapacitated, and are unable to reach a phone, a smart speaker can be your lifeline to emergency assistance. Calling 911 using a smart speaker has additional requirements we’ll discuss later in this post.
How do I communicate with a smart speaker and its digital assistant?
Digital assistants respond to a wake word or phrase and wait for you to say something. To do this, smart speakers must have their microphones turned on at all times, listening for the wake word and subsequent spoken commands. Smart speakers’ always-on microphones have raised privacy concerns we address later in the post.
The wake words for the different digital assistants are:
- Alexa: Alexa
- Google Assistant:
- Ok, Google
- Hey, Google
- Hey, Boo Boo (seriously, try it)
- Siri: Hey, Siri
Examples of some commands you can use with your smart speaker:
- What is today’s weather forecast?
- Remind me to take medication every morning at 7:30.
- Call (emergency contact name).
- When is my next doctor’s appointment?
- Play some Mozart.
Smart Speakers Available
Three smart speaker brands compete for top market share:
However, these are not the only smart speakers available. Each of these major companies has several models to choose from among their smart speaker offerings. Another competitor worthy of mention – Sonos – allows users to choose either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa digital assistant.
Due to the low cost of entry, the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini are the more popular choices in that lineup. Apple HomePod is a bit on the expensive side and is most popular among Apple aficionados.
Smart Speaker Uses for Older Adults
Older adults can benefit from having one or more smart speakers in their home to help with a variety of routine or emergency tasks.
- Setting reminders for taking medication
- Calling for emergency assistance
- Using as an alarm clock
- Playing music or news
- Maintaining your calendar and reviewing appointments
Emergency Calling on a Smart Speaker
Presently, emergency calling – as in 911 emergency services – is not a natively supported feature of smart speakers. However, you can configure any speaker discussed to use your smartphone for calling an emergency contact, like a caregiver, neighbor or family member.
Amazon Echo smart speakers are the only speakers that can utilize 911 emergency services. But only if you purchase the Echo Connect and have a phone line in your home.
Placing smart speakers in strategic locations throughout your home enables you to call for assistance from anywhere should you fall or become otherwise unable to help yourself. Consider placing speakers in separate rooms where another speaker’s microphones can’t hear you.
Digital Assistants Available Now on Your Smartphone
If you’re unsure whether you want a smart speaker in your home, think about it this way: you probably already have a digital assistant on your phone. Apple iPhone has Siri built-in, and many Android phones have Google Assistant built-in – especially Google phones. You can get the Alexa app for your smartphone, too.
If you already have one of these digital assistants, you can use almost any of the example commands and suggested uses for automating certain tasks right now. Ask Siri for the current temperature, or ask Google Assistant to set a reminder for a specific day and time to take your medication.
The commands are:
- Hey, Siri
- What is the current temperature?
- Hey, Google
- Remind me to take meds every day at 2:30 pm.
Smart Speaker Privacy Concerns
Last year, reports raised privacy concerns regarding smart speaker use and unwanted eavesdropping by tech companies. You can alleviate most of these by taking a few precautions. Mute your smart speaker when you don’t wish to be heard or periodically delete your voice command history for your specific device.
However, be advised that if you mute a smart speaker it won’t hear you in urgent situations when you may want assistance.
My post on smart speaker privacy concerns explains how you can take precautions to protect your privacy when having a smart speaker in the home.
Additional Smart Speaker Resources
Here are some smart speaker reviews and information you can check out.
- PC Magazine 2020 Smart Speaker Reviews
- CNET 2020 Smart Speaker Roundup
- 5 Ways Your Smart Speaker Can Help You in an Emergency
If you have a smart speaker or are thinking about getting one and are unsure which one would best suit your needs, Prime of Life Tech can assist. I can help you determine what you want from a smart speaker and which one fits best with your current or future technology (smartphone, tablet, or IoT devices).