You’ve seen the ads. You’ve seen them in stores. Maybe you even received one for the holidays. Smart speakers seem to be creeping their way into our homes, but what, exactly, are they and how do they fit into the technical landscape?

A speaker that actually, well, speaks!

By simple definition, a smart speaker is a speaker that connects to the internet. Now, imagine that internet-connected speaker on steroids. Smart speakers not only stream your favorite audio content from the internet, they contain microphones enabling you to control them (along with the compatible smart devices in your home) with just your voice. They come in lots of sizes and shapes, but the core features are controlled by the top three digital assistants you may already know: Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Assistant.

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Just use an activation phrase and a command like, “Alexa, turn off…”, “Hey, Siri, remind me to…” or “OK, Google, how many…” and your speaker’s digital assistant is at your beck and call. Aside from playing audio content and controlling your smart devices, you can ask about the weather, keep track of sports scores, have the news read to you, add reminders to your calendar, send text messages by voice, settle fact disputes and even call an Uber, shop online and so much more.

Which one is right for me?

If you’re looking to purchase a smart speaker, we recommend choosing one that works best with whatever digital ecosystem you subscribe to. Amazon Prime fans would benefit from an Alexa-based speaker. Apple’s HomePod works best with Apple products and services. Google Play and other Google service subscribers might want to choose a Google smart speaker featuring Google Assistant.

What’s really going on here?

Throughout the computer age, we have been taken on a journey that started with room-sized computers, which businesses ran to adopt. Next, personal computers, laptops and notebooks helped us take all of that power with us on our travels and, finally, fast forward to today’s computers that fit inside tablets, mobile phones and even our wrists. Each one of these advances changed the way we do business, communicate with each other and changed almost every aspect of our modern civilization. So, where do smart speakers fit in?

As cool and convenient as these smart speakers seem, there’s actually something bigger going on under the (cloud) hood. They just might be a gateway to another shift in how we interact with the world, the same way the computer, laptop, tablet and mobile phone each changed how we get things done. If you remember HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” then you know where I’m going with this.

What can a smart speaker do for me?

As we no longer need to be tethered to power cords and modems of the past, soon we’ll become accustomed to getting at our data conversationally. Smart speakers and digital assistants can now listen to our requests (input), process them (compute), and deliver the results (output) just like…well, computers!

With software upgrades on the horizon, most of these devices will be able to order items for your pantry and have them delivered to your door without you touching a thing. Your smart speaker will be able to understand complex requests and communicate with other virtual assistants. For example: “Alexa, make an appointment with Dr. Wellness for my annual physical sometime next month on a Wednesday before 2 p.m.” and within minutes, you’ll hear, “Done. I’ve added it to your calendar.”

Imagine coming in from a long day and your assistant greets you with, “I noticed your car is overdue for scheduled service and the ‘Check Engine Soon’ light came on. I found an opening in your schedule for Saturday. Would you like me to make an appointment?” These requests may seem a little far-fetched, but they’re not. In fact, none of us thought we would be speaking commands into thin air just few years ago, but that feat is already old news.

Is this thing on?

For now, think of a smart speaker as a computer without a screen, except that it’s always on and always listening. Some have privacy concerns as they don’t want these devices to listen to their private conversations. That’s a valid point and should not be taken lightly, especially in terms of possible advertising opportunities. However, to others, the convenience outweighs the fear of the speaker listening to us speak baby babble to our pets.

Have a tech question? Send your question to NYCWebwiz@icloud.com or tweet @WebWizSolutions and we’ll try to answer it here.

Rich Suweidan, a.k.a. Webwizard, is a webmaster for the city of New York. He is also the chief principal and webmaster of Webwizard Solutions LLC designing websites and web-based solutions for almost 20 years. Visit webwizardsolutions.net for all of your website needs.