When Amazon introduced the Echo to the world, it was a harbinger of things to come in the smart home industry. The Echo is a stylish and relatively inconspicuous object that can actually prove useful in everyday interactions. It is an assistant and a speaker all rolled into one though not without its shortcomings. While Alexa is a fine AI assistant, for instance, most people have already associated voice commands with one of their smartphones. And while the Echo has a serviceable speaker, it is far from ideal.
A music-focused home assistant
Now, a new competitor tried to join the market without much success. Boombotix, maker of some very decent portable speakers, took to Kickstarter in order to fund its own smart speaker. The campaign, as well as the product itself, was created in conjunction with SoundHound, famous for the synonymous music-search software as well as its Hound AI assistant which is actually used in the smart speaker too. The ‘Hurricane Artificial Intelligence DJ’ recently ended its Kickstarter campaign without fulfilling its funding goal. Though we could probably sit here analyzing the many reasons why a Kickstarter campaign might fail, the main point is often much simpler; the Hurricane never received much attention in the media.
A market for giants?
Products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are instantly recognizable because they are bundled inside two huge brands. Both Amazon and Google need only make a simple announcement and the entire tech world will always be on the lookout for more news. The two companies can and do create extensive third-party partnerships, they spend millions on marketing, and can freely experiment with products even if they do not end up being successful.
On the other hand, Boombotix cannot afford such luxuries. The company has a working prototype that seems to work extremely well if the Kickstarter is any indication. However, the project was also incredibly ambitious as the company themselves will readily admit. “This project has more complexity than any other product we’ve ever built”, reads the Kickstarter page. After all, the unit would not only require mobile apps on both major platforms but also an onboard software piece and a partnership with multiple third-party companies such as Spotify.
As a potential backer, my main concerns with the Hurricane are mostly the same as with any other smart speaker. However, the fact that both Boombotix and SoundHound are relatively small companies is also a cause for concern in this case. Google Home, for instance, is powered by AI components with the full backing of a tech giant. On a similar note, Amazon is willing to shell out huge investments for its products, even if they are not financially successful.
Of course, that is not to say that smart speakers should only be made by big corporations. In fact, SoundHound’s Hound software has gotten consistently good reviews ever since its original release. Users and critics alike praised its fast functionality and response rates but complained about its relative restrictions, particularly in working with third-party software. Unfortunately, it seems like such complaints were instrumental in the Hurricane’s Kickstarter campaign.
A promising future despite an early demise
Despite the campaign’s end result, I would still love to see a working version of the Hurricane out and about. Neither Google Home nor Amazon Echo really focus on music whereas Boombotix have proven themselves as quality manufacturers of portable speakers. That, along with the AI algorithm and assistant of SoundHound, could have proven to be a winning combination. Whether the Hurricane will actually see the light of day or not remains to be seen. Even if it does, I highly doubt we will see it soon as the product was originally slated for a March 2017 release for the general public if the campaign had actually been successful.
Those of you who are disappointed about the Hurricane might want to turn your attention to the Amazon Echo Dot 2 instead. The $50/£50 hockey puck device is probably the least expensive smart home digital assistant out there right now. And though its own speaker is abysmal, you could always connect it to another great speaker for even less than a Hurricane might have cost you.
Though the Hurricane’s future is doubtful, I for one am looking forward to even more companies joining in the smart home/speaker market. Any competition for the Amazon Echo and Google Home will be good for the consumers and we will at least get to witness a very diversified set of products.