Mai 23, 2017

Need Mood Lighting to Go With Your Music? Ask Alexa. No App Required.

SEATTLE — Today, most people know Amazon's Echo speaker as an easy way to play music using voice commands, but the device and others like it are catching on as ways to control light switches, thermostats and other smart home appliances.


Now Amazon has a deal with one of the best known purveyors of home furnishings — Ikea — to make Alexa, the voice assistant inside Echo, more integrated into homes.

On Tuesday, Ikea plans to announce that by this summer, its recently introduced line of smart lighting products can be controlled through voice commands. (Right now, these lights can be activated with an app). The products in the Swedish retailer's new Tradfri line include light bulbs that work with traditional lamps. Through the integration with Amazon's products, the bulbs will be wirelessly connected to Alexa so people can instruct the assistant to turn the lights on or dim them in various rooms of a house.

The arrangement is not exclusive to Amazon, so Ikea can strike similar agreements with makers of other smart speakers like Google Home.

The backing of Ikea, known for its affordable, mass-market furnishings, could help attract more public curiosity about smart home appliances, which most consumers have not yet seen a compelling reason to purchase. In an interview, Daniel Rausch, vice president for smart home at Amazon, said the relationship with Ikea would allow people to outfit a room with smart lighting for just "tens of dollars."

Currently on Amazon, a smart lighting starter kit from Philips that includes two bulbs and a hub that enables connecting wirelessly sells for a little less than $70. The price on Ikea's website for a hub and its two least expensive bulbs is just under $54, or less than $42 with one bulb.

Amazon has said there have been "tens of millions of Alexa devices" sold, including various devices in Amazon's Echo family of products and others from independent device makers. While a lot of people use Echo to play music from Spotify or from radio stations, Mr. Rausch said smart home usage of the devices was growing rapidly.

He said Alexa users gave home-related commands — like "raise the temperature in the living room" and "turn on the dining room lights" — millions of times a day. The number of such commands by Alexa users grew 500 percent in the period from March to May compared with the same period the year before he said.

One obstacle to the growth of the smart home market has been that most individual products — thermostats, sprinkler systems, smart plugs and light bulbs — require separate apps to control them. For a person fumbling in the dark with a bag of groceries, simply flicking the lights on is much less of a hassle than opening an app on a smartphone to perform the same task.

But being able to command all or most of a home's smart appliances using voice, as people can do through Alexa, could make them more appealing, analysts said. "I think this idea of voice control is really going to accelerate this whole market, and I think Amazon is very much ahead," said Victoria Petrock, an analyst at eMarketer, a technology research firm. "That's not to say the race is won."

EMarketer recently estimated that this year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-enabled speaker at least once a month. Amazon's Echo devices will have about 70 percent of the market, and Google Home will have under 24 percent.

New York Times