Over the past year we've seen a new phenomena in the world of smart speakers. They're, well, smart speakers with a display. Amazon kicked it all off with the Echo Show, and Google soon followed with its Smart Display program.
But why are all these companies jumping on this bandwagon?
Read this: Why Google's turning to the screen
The straight and simple answer: smart displays are just more useful. Don't get me wrong, smart speakers have become very good, and the features arm race between Alexa and Google Assistant is quickly turning both into extremely helpful digital voice assistants, but there are a number of scenarios where having a display is more helpful.
People are simple creatures. We like when things are frictionless, simple and fast. If you ask your Echo Dot for the weather, you'll get your answer, but you have to wait for Alexa to finish listing off all the days. On an Echo Show, you get a graphic that can not only instantly convey the weather of the day, but the rest of the week too.
Then there's smart home control. Smart speakers have become the gateway to the smart home, but using your voice to control every gadget in your abode can get, well, a little nosy. You have not experienced smart home hell until you've heard someone trying to use Alexa to turn on the lights at 4am and fail multiple times (Nice one, Dad).
With a smart display - like the Home Hub - you get the added benefit of touch. You can swipe down on the Home Hub to look at Home View, a top-down look at all your smart home devices. You can easily - and quietly - control them all from there. Even better, everyone has equal access.
The path forward for the smart display has actually been laid out by Google
We're still addicted to our smartphones, and until everyone gets really comfortable with voice interactions touchscreen-based computing is still going to be our favorite method of doing things. Sure, there are Alexa and Google Home apps that also house smart home controls, but that requires you to convince everyone in your family to download and sign into that app - and then actually use it. Trust me, from experience, it's easier said than done.
Then there's the added benefit of versatility. A smart display can serve you up video. I'm not talking about entertainment either, because smart displays are - frankly - not very good when you're staring at them for long lengths of time. But they are good when you need something quick like a how-to video - like cooking. Want to know how to peel and chop garlic? A smart display means no need to expose your phone or tablet to the mess of a kitchen or your food-stained hands.
Even a glance in the morning to see your calendar and commute information is going to be preferable than having Google Assistant blaring in your ears - especially as it hasn't learned to have an indoor voice the way Alexa has.
Now, we are going to have growing pains with smart displays. A lot of companies seem convinced that video chat is one of the primary use cases for these things. Hell, Facebook's Portals are built around them. That would be a mistake, because it often feels like these smart displays are either too small or come with static cameras that can't keep up with you.
The Portal does attempt to solve those problems, but the bigger problem is that it's from Facebook. And let's not forget that our smartphones are still our primary method of communication.
The path forward for the smart display has actually been laid out by Google. The Home Hub doesn't have a camera, so it's easier for a lot of people to feel comfortable with putting it practically everywhere. It's got an easy-to-access touch-based smart home control system in Home View. It's small. And, best of all, it's aggressively priced.
Smart speakers largely took off thanks to the low cost of putting an Echo Dot or a Google Home Mini in our homes. If the Home Hub can inspire a new legion of affordable smart displays in a similar $100 to $150 price range, there won't be denying that they're here to stay.
I promise you, they are.