Do smart assistants really take away the FUN?


We often test smart systems for different manufacturers, such as driving assistants, cooking assistants, smart assistants for washing machines, smart assistants for vacuum cleaners, and more.

In both areas, driving and cooking, we often hear feedback from consumers saying, "These assistants take away my fun, I don't want them. You don't need to develop them." At first, I thought that we as human beings still like to take control of everything on our own and don't necessarily need all these tech products.

But then I realized that in the areas of laundry and cleaning, no one ever tells us, "I don't want this smart assistant, give me back my laundry/cleaning fun."

I totally understand these feelings: if a smart wok helps me stir fry a dish, it won’t feel like a dish that I prepared myself. I would feel “lost in a meaningless world”, somehow. However, if a machine helps me wash all my clothes or clean the room, I doubt that my "non-participation" will make me feel useless. I would be relieved about the time and effort saved and the free time gained.

At this point, I think it is necessary to define the word "fun".

According to Wikipedia, fun is a state of mind, usually caused by activity. During the activity, the participant

  1. did cognitive thinking
  2. encountered some challenges and successfully solved them
  3. experienced something different from daily routine
  4. learned something new

Point 2 and 3 are the key to experiencing "fun". [1]

Back to our previous example:

  • if a vacuum cleaner's smart system does everything for me, it takes away my chance to experience point 2 and 3, but that doesn't make my life any less fun;
  • if a smart wok takes away my chance to experience point 2 and 3, I feel like I'm missing out on the fun of cooking.

Under these circumstances, I would add a new criterion to the 4 points above.

  1. the participant wants to actively participate in and experience the activity or at least some steps of the activity

I think the 5th point is a very important criterion, which we can use to distinguish the variety of consumers and product usage contexts.


Take laundry and vacuuming as an example:

Almost no one is willing to actively engage in activities like doing laundry and cleaning. Therefore, any smart system that supports consumers in these areas should be welcomed.


Take cooking as an example:

For those who love to cook and are willing to spend time cooking, a smart feature that takes over the stir-frying part will take away the user’s chance of mastering the wok and controlling the fire. The process of cooking and preparing everything yourself is their purpose of cooking.

For those who do not have the time to cook and who just want to eat something warm and healthy after a busy workday, an intelligent assistant is what they want and need. The process of cooking is irrelevant and eating well is the purpose.


Take driving as an example:

It can be a fun challenge to maneuver a car into a tight parking space, especially for those who love to observe the distance between objects and enjoy mastering the steering wheel. For those people, the parking process itself is the purpose.

For those who are running late for work, or those who are not good at driving, parking can be rather bothersome. To them, quick parking into an available space is the purpose and it does not matter who is doing it.

We could compare driving to riding a horse. Some people need a horse for safe transportation from A to B. Some people want to spend time on training their horse to do different stunts, to overcome various obstacles together with their horse, to experience communication and bonding between human and horse, and to become a team.

Is it correct to say that the second kind of people don’t need an "intelligent assistance system", as they want to master everything on their own?

Not really.

For a horse trainer, it is very important to judge whether a horse is suitable for riding, meaning, whether the horse is safe to ride or not. A horse worth training is calm, knows when and how to avoid obstacles even without the rider's guidance, and does not put the rider in danger by going wild all of a sudden.

This also applies to cars: the process of learning how to and eventually driving a car is a pleasure for many people, but "knowing how to avoid danger (at the last moment) to keep the driver safe" is still a very important criterion, which can be met by technology.


To sum up:

Whether in a philosophical or political discussion: The very first thing everyone does is define their terms. A real discussion can only start after everyone has unified their definition of the terms.

I think this also applies to business analysis, as we gather a lot of consumers’ ideas from various interviews, focus groups, or online questionnaires and then write business recommendations based on those insights. Sometimes, taking a break and looking closely at some definitions can be useful and helpful in order to be open minded.


Spiegel Institut conducts market and consumer research studies all over the world. Not only do we offer results, we also take a closer look at the insights in order to provide our clients with a meta understanding of the whole issue. 

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Author: Yue Liu, Spiegel Institut Mannheim

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