Amazon Echo and Google Home have become extremely sought-after pieces of technology.
On one hand, Home Assistants can be useful if you need a recipe, song or anything else at the drop of a hat because you're guaranteed an answer. On the other hand, you have a device that has access to your private life, personal conversations, bank details and other sensitive information that could be used against you.
These devices are widely available in South Africa even though they were designed for the US, UK and European markets - and for this reason they sometimes fall short of our expectations. In addition to the global concerns, some functionalities are not available in the country.
We weigh up the pros and cons of buying a Home Assistant and what you should consider before investing in one.
South Africans are all about the latest technology, whether this is out of genuine usability or status is hard to define. Either way, the simplicity and futuristic benefits of the home assistance is easy to identify.
With a plethora of information available at our finger tips, a Home Assistant helps to cut out the middle man (your cellphone) while you're getting on with life. Whether you need a recipe for cooking or searching for the answer to a question, you don't need your phone on hand to access your information.
Similarly, if you have an Amazon Echo device and need to call someone who also has the same device, the Alexa app supports Alexa-to-Alexa calling. This function is available on iPhone with iOS 9.0 or higher, and an Android phone with Android 5.0 or higher.
If you have more than one Home Assistant device in your household, you can use the system as an intercom. Rather than shouting to get your kids to the dinner table, use the drop-in feature on Amazon Echo or if you have Google Home, simply say "Google broadcast that it's dinnertime" or whatever message needs sending.
Overall, Home Assistants integrate well with many third-party apps like Spotify for instance, so you can also use it as a sound system rather than buying separate bluetooth speakers. It can be helpful to set alarms, diarise important dates, read the news and listen to the radio.
Home Assistants are unfortunately more useful in countries like North America and the UK as they are more functional.
Amazon Echo especially does so well overseas because people can order from Amazon almost seamlessly. South Africa doesn't have quite the easy connection to Amazon and its delivery services. They do ship here but SA doesn't have access to the Prime Drone delivery service nor does it look like we will in the foreseeable future.
Google Home and Amazon Echo are not easy on the wallet either. While they won't necessarily breaking the bank, an investment in the device might simply be out of the question for many.
Privacy is the glaringly obvious con. We wouldn't let a stranger know such detailed information about our lives, so why should a device have access to such information? Reports of hacked Amazon Echo devices show that these systems are vulnerable.
While both Amazon Echo and Google Home have incredible voice recognition features, English is not the first language of majority of South Africans. Amazon Echo and Google supports 8 languages but these do not include Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele or any of South Africa's 11 official languages except English.
A final con is their reliance on the internet. Amazon Echo and Google use the internet to complete most of their tasks. South Africa's internet coverage is strong and when it works it's effective - but with the instability of load shedding and the cost of data - the addition of yet another device to your WiFi all the time is something to seriously consider.
What to consider before buying
If you've been considering a Home Assistant for a while then it's worth considering what you want from the device.
If all those features are available in South Africa, you have understood and acknowledged the security risks and they are outweighed by the benefits then you should definitely go for it.
If you're worried about privacy issues, there are certain settings that can be changed to combat the threat of hacking of listening in. If you can't see how the benefits of the device will increase your life enough to make these security fears seem worth the risk, rather spend your money on something else.