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2020 is proving to be a transformative year for the smart home industry and the recent mobile app strategy updates led by tech giants are at the epicenter of this transformation. Amazon, Google, and Apple have all made important changes to their mobile user interfaces, adding new features and services oriented to boost the user experience at home.

Amazon has revamped the Alexa app, introducing several changes to the visual interface designed to provide a more personalized and useful experience. The most important change has been to move the Alexa button to a more prominent position in the app to encourage users to speak instead of tapping. Considering how Amazon has been trying to promote voice-first experiences since the beginning, this change will allow the company to increase user engagement and usage on-the-go, creating a new set of voice experiences that Amazon is keen to promote with first-party and third-party skills. Another important enhancement has been the launch of real-time chat support for customer’s queries. This initiative follows the company’s well-known high-touch approach to customer support and is meant to increase customer satisfaction levels while making sure users take full advantage of Alexa as a personal AI assistant.

Following a relatively conservative approach, Apple has refurbished the Home app with the launch of iOS14. The company has introduced new features such as “Suggested Automations” for users to add new HomeKit-compatible smart home devices and expanded controls for quicker access to devices and scenes. Moreover, the upcoming iOS14 release will bring additional support for home security cameras, including greater device integration, activity zone customization, and facial recognition based on the user’s photo library. These new features will give HomeKit Secure Video camera users access to consolidated functionality in one single app, a fact that represents a major competitive differentiator when compared to third-party smart home apps.

In contrast, Google has assumed a more radical market approach by adding quick access smart home controls to Android 11’s new power button menu. By long pressing the smartphone’s power button, users will be able to control all their supported smart home devices in one single place, making the whole experience simpler and faster than having to go to the Google Home app to achieve the same result. Additionally, the new menu will allow users to tailor the experience with “Quick Control” shortcuts, adding an extra layer of personalization. This strategy differs significantly from the competition and sets the tone of Google’s growing ambitions and determination to reduce the complexity associated with the control of smart home devices. Most importantly, this market initiative will help Google make significant progress in the user experience front despite its current straggling position when compared to rivals as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1: Google lags behind in user experience despite progress in business strategy

From the beginning, Amazon, Google, and Apple have all been passionate advocates of voice-first experiences in the race for the smart home. These companies have systematically placed their voice assistants at the center of their smart home strategies, promoting them as a key interface designed to help customers control their smart home devices via voice commands. However, recent developments in their mobile app strategy show that not everything revolves around voice. Mobile apps as a user interface are as important as voice in the formula for a successful smart home experience. Until these companies finish developing the full potential of their AI assistant, making them 100% capable of offering a frictionless experience at home, the need for mobile apps will remain intact.

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