This month’s issue of Pulse is a guest post written by Richard Yao, Manager of Strategy and Content at IPG Media Lab. @ryaoipg

The ongoing pandemic has had a strong yet complicated impact on the development of ambient computing, which refers to the contextually aware software that can serve users without requiring explicit commands. Things like smart home, smart city, and other IoT-enabled experiences, based on technologies designed to fade into the background as part of the ambiance, are all building toward the future of ambient computing.

Surprisingly, smart home devices have shown no significant breakthroughs in either use cases or wider adoption, despite the conditions that stay-at-home orders have created. Adoption of smart home devices among U.S. adults is predicted to grow from 33 percent in 2019 to 39 percent in 2020, according to market research by Hub Research, indicating a growth rate that is at par with previous years.

To be fair, research suggests existing users are using their smart home devices more frequently when stuck at home. Fifty-two percent of voice assistant users say they interact with voice tech several times a day or nearly every day, compared to 46 percent before the outbreak, according to a report released in late April by NPR and Edison Research. But this report also underscores the stagnant reality of use cases for voice-enabled devices, as most usage cited is still limited to basic tasks such as playing music or checking the news.

As long as most use cases remain confined to native functionality, branded voice experiences will likely not get the audience they could theoretically reach via smart speakers and smartphones. All in all, smart home devices may have missed the boat on this round of pandemic-accelerated adoption.

That being said, some implications of pandemic recovery are changing consumer behavior outside the home, making a strong case for accelerating the development of ambient computing.

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