“Hey Google, lower the room temperature by two degrees,” my friend asked his Google Home recently. The voice-activated assistant lit up in response, but it failed to understand the command and its lights quickly faded. He rose from the couch, walked over to the voice-activated assistant and repeated the request – still no luck. Sighing in frustration, he turned the dial on the Nest thermostat next to the device himself.
Many Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod owners have had similar experiences where their ‘smart’ speaker mishears or ignores their commands. Coupled with their superfluous functions and lack of clear purpose, users tend to ignore the devices once the novelty wears off and only wheel them out at dinner parties. That pattern has played out in my household, where my fiancée and I speak to Alexa only three times a day on average – for a morning weather forecast, a cooking timer and to stop an alarm - and I often have to shout and repeat requests before they’re recognised. However, greater interaction with healthcare apps could transform these devices from gimmicks into valuable tools.
Amazon is assembling a 12-person health and wellness team to add healthcare functionality to its Alexa voice assistant, according to CNBC. The new employees’ initial focus will be on diabetes management, elder care, and maternal and infant care. Setting aside commercial uses, Alexa could remind users to take their medication at certain times, track and report their glucose and blood-pressure levels using data from other apps, and remind them of doctor’s appointments, as outlined by Slate. It could also connect users with a doctor to address medical concerns, diagnose minor injuries and cut down on pricey hospital trips, or alert family members if an elderly relative suffers a fall or injury. And Amazon could – with users’ permission - use health data to craft better product recommendations.
Third-party fitness apps are already available on smart speakers, but it’s easy to imagine Apple, Google and Amazon will develop offerings powered by users’ health information. Their voice assistants could recommend and adjust daily step goals based on users’ health and activity levels, suggest suitable local activities such as fun runs, and connect them with others in similar shape to work out together. They could also recommend and guide users through appropriate exercise such as Zumba or yoga. And their clout and resources would allow them to partner with health and fitness personalities such as Joe Wicks and Deepak Chopra to add personality, credibility and fun to the workouts.
Millions of people have excitedly purchased smart speakers to converse with a virtual assistant and control lighting, temperature and other elements of their homes with their voices. However, spotty understanding and limited utility have led to many devices being relegated to party tricks or forgotten completely. Integrating health and fitness functions, powered by users’ data, could allow them to realise their potential as vital partners in their owners’ wellbeing.