Mom… Dad… Alexa? Kids and Smart Speakers

Smart speakers are coming for kids! Google and Amazon continue to solidify their devices’ ubiquity in the household by developing features that encourage kids to have habitual experiences. Voice is an instinctive form of communication, and because kids are sponges to the world around them, stories are pouring in from parents whose little ones’ first words included “Alexa”.

Voice apps provide a great way to expand a child’s development in areas of listening, imagination, critical thinking, literacy, autonomy, and more. In addition to serving an educational purpose, they’re also fun, exciting, and easy to use. A recent NPR report states that 57% of smart speaker owners bought the speaker to entertain children, and 88% say their kids enjoy Amazon’s smart-assistant Alexa.

From games to music, homework help, or silly jokes — it sounds like the kids are on board with smart speakers.

Photo by CNET. https://www.cnet.com/videos/kids-try-to-stump-alexa/

CAPTURING THE NEXT GENERATION

In August, Amazon began allowing developers to publish Alexa skills for kids under age 13, which can only be accessed after explicit parental permission.

According to Business Insider, this move “will enable Amazon to establish mindshare among the next generation of consumers. While Millennials are the largest segment of voice assistant users at the moment, capturing the next generation of users will be integral for the technology to reach mass adoption.”

This week, Google released 50 new voice experiences for kids, including improved voice recognition accuracy for children. Their FamilyLink program allows parents to set up monitored accounts to control access and keep an eye on activity.

“We think Google Home has lots of potential to help kids and families. We want to be thoughtful about what it would take to deliver a great kid experience,” said Google’s VP of Home Product Management, Rishi Chandra, during their October event.

The latest “Broadcast” feature allows messages or reminders like, “Time to leave for school!” to be pushed to every device at once — which is great for families with a Google Home device in every room.

“Parents are going to love this (Broadcast) feature, kids…kids are going to hate this feature,” Chandra said.

Google’s new experiences include partnership with Disney, Warner Bros and Sports Illustrated Kids. Kids can hear classic fairy tales like Cinderella, interact with beloved Mickey Mouse, play freeze dance, musical chairs, and a whole lot more.

A HABITUAL EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS

“I use it almost every day to ask the weather, because I walk to and from school,” said Catherine Auerbach, a 13-year-old who loves the Amazon Echo speaker in her family’s kitchen. She frequently asks Alexa to add items to the grocery list, asks for word definitions, answers to math questions, and, of course, to play Taylor Swift when her friends are over.

“It’s just so smart, it knows so many things, it’s amazing how it can recognize people and all different kinds of speech…I think there are some flaws, but it’s a pretty flawless system,” she said. The most glaring flaw for her being lack of translation capabilities when she’s completing her Spanish homework.

“I think of it as talking to a robot computer who is really smart and kind of human in a way because she can sing songs and tell jokes…like a robot with a really good sense of human skill and emotion.”

Auerbach said she imagines the next few generations will live in a world powered by voice and facial recognition, where voice is a password to unlock devices, and a way to bypass making physical effort to look up information.

EYES OFF THE SCREEN

Smart speakers present a huge opportunity for interactive storytelling. Unlike many tablet apps, or video games, dynamic voice experiences get kids’ eyes off tablet screens and their imaginations soaring.

The Magic Door is a voice app that captivates users with sounds and voices to carry them through “choose your own adventure” stories. Kids can explore scenarios like a witch’s mansion or a forest path.

“It’s like this is what the device is meant for, you can see the excitement,” said Andy Huntwork, who co-created the highly-rated skill with his wife Laura. “You don’t necessarily need super fancy audio, it’s not a show, it’s storytelling in a really natural way.”

The two said they did not expect the patience and persistence they’ve seen from Magic Door users as they work together to listen in, quietly debate their responses, and choose their path.

“It promotes listening skills, and it really works,” Laura said. “They can’t shout out of turn or the speaker won’t understand.”

For The Magic Door, designing for all ages was inherent because voice is a natural interface for everyone. Their son began interacting with Alexa at age 1, as soon as he could correctly say her name.

“As parents and developers we think [smart speakers are] just a really new and cool thing that’s not the same as the tablet, where people are eyes down, not talking to each other, not working together, in their own world,” Laura said.

A NEW FAMILY MEMBER

Smart speakers give kids a chance to embrace old and new concepts all at once, by stepping away from the screen and into their imaginations. According to a study by AdWeek and BabyCenter, “twenty-two percent of parents say their virtual assistants are actually ‘like another part of the family.’” With the holiday season coming up, we expect a lot of families will be adding at least one new virtual assistant member to help with the kids.

Looking to make a kid-friendly, branded voice app? 
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