What are smart speakers?

Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple Homepod, everyone heard of smart speakers by now but what exactly are they?

How did it start?

Today, everybody has at least once heard of intelligent personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. These voice-controlled assistants make it possible for users to call their contacts, create reminders or send messages by simply talking to their phone without the need to manually press buttons. A derivative of this trend are smart speakers that found their way into many homes in the last few years.

What are smart speakers?

A smart speaker is a wireless audio device that provides a variety of additional features by using multiple types of connectivity. Next to the option of connecting to multiple audio sources, smart speakers offer additional features to enhance usability and provide further functionality. Any speaker that provides additional functionality other than generating sound could be labelled as a smart speaker. However, the definition that is most commonly used today is that if you can control your speaker by voice, it’s a smart speaker.

Until now, smart speakers are primarily used to stream music, create shopping lists or get tomorrow’s weather forecast, but they are a critical first step in the impending shift toward the “connected” or “smart home”. The concept of a smart home means that you can control most (or all) of the devices in your home, such as lights, TV, AC or your heater via some smart device or in this case, via your smart speaker.

Starting in late 2014 with the release of the Echo, Amazon dominated the market for almost two years until other companies, amongst others Google and Fabriq, also started to release their own devices. Most of smart speakers today feature a voice-activated assistant like Amazon’s Alexa, enabling the user to have dialogues with their devices, at least to a certain degree and giving them commands e.g. to play your favorite song.

As of today, around 16% of Americans or around 39 million people own a smart speaker with 65% of respondents stating that they wouldn’t want to go back to life without their smart speakers [1] and increasingly more companies are entering the market with their own smart speakers or are currently preparing to. One of the latter is Apple, which announced the release of its own smart speaker device, the Apple Homepod, in November 2017 and released it early this year to compete with the currently leading devices by Amazon and Google.

Changing behaviors and new habits

While increasingly more people are owning smart speakers (in the US alone, almost 25 million smart speakers were sold in 2017), and replacing the time spend on their phone, tablet or computer by interacting with their new devices, it is to be expected, that smart speakers are going to play a big role in future trends to come. This is also supported by the result of a recent study by Junior Research which found that smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the Sonos One will be installed in over 70 million U.S. households by 2022 [2]. We are moving towards a future where users won’t always need a screen to interact with their devices.

Just one of the many options for smart speakers in shipping
Just one of the many options for smart speakers in shipping

What are our plans for smart speakers and Cloud Fleet Manager?

We are working with both the Amazon Echo as well as Google Home to offer users of CFM a more convenient way of accessing relevant data. We are already able to access data from various modules of CFM by voice command to easily display e.g. statistics for off-hires, claims, upcoming crew changes and much more. Additionally, we are currently adding dialogue features to immediately receive verbal feedback on questions such as: “Which vessels reach Singapore next?” or “Who is the captain of HS Indian Bay?”. In the long run, we intend for the users of our system to be able to completely voice control Cloud Fleet Manager - Access, edit and enter data by simply using their voice.

The future of smart speakers in shipping

As technology advances in terms of functionality and becomes more affordable it is almost certain that smart speakers and voice-controlled devices will also have an impact on the daily business of shipping companies. Accessing relevant information won’t even take a few clicks, it will be right at the tip of your tongue. You could instantly receive relevant information while in a meeting without the hassle of looking for data. You could simply edit or add data using voice commands while on the go. You could also get an instant overview about your upcoming tasks of the day or the current crew of ships you are responsible for. The possibilities are almost unlimited.


[1] National Public Media: Smart Audio Report

[2] Juniper Research: Amazon Echo & Google Home to Reside in Over 50% of US Households by 2022

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