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Why Smart Devices Will Get More Expensive

Smart speakers equipped with voice assistants from Amazon and Google have taken off recently for one big reason: prices as low as $30. But if chipmakers have their way, this hardware could get a lot more expensive in the near future. And that could put a crimp in growth of this market, where the usefulness of these devices is still being debated.

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, chip companies ranging from Qualcomm to Arm made the case for beefier processors and more memory for future voice assistance-enabled devices. Their argument is that higher-end chips could allow the devices to handle more sophisticated functions than they can now. Qualcomm, for instance, announced last week a partnership with Google for its Home Hub system, which contains high-end mobile chips that can run Google’s deep learning software TensorFlow. That could potentially help a device recognize faces faster than is possible now.

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Many of the new devices powered by voice assistants are getting equipped with additional cameras and sensors, and that will make the need for processing information locally even more urgent. “You put a camera on the device, it suddenly gets harder to keep sending all the data to the cloud,” said Mr. Talluri of Qualcomm. “It hogs bandwidth.”

William McLeod commented on this article.
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“You’re going to see different device categories. It’s not just a one size fits all.”