A new US patent from LG shows a device that looks like a lamp with a shade that goes up and down, but is actually a smart speaker. The patent does not give a ton of information about how such a device would function, what features it would have, or what smart assistant would reside inside the hardware. No, this is merely a design patent, meaning that LG could make whatever tweaks it wants to the internals, should it ever choose to pursue this particular design. It's a bit of a strange design, given how most smart speakers look, but the movable design could be a sign of fresh features yet unseen in the space.
Background: The speaker design being patented here consists of a flat, circular base, with a lampshade-like protrusion on top. This protrusion is likely the body of the speaker. A conical speaker in and of itself isn't all that weird, especially given the directional audio wizardry usually necessary to make smart speakers work the way that they do, but this one sets itself apart with movement. The lampshade-like main body is shown as being able to move up and down a central pole, possibly indicating active or inactive status, changing something about the device's acoustics, or leaving space for addons, placing your phone there to pair it up, or a number of other potential features. It is worth noting that LG's patent repeatedly refers to the device only as a speaker, and non-smart speakers is a market niche that LG is already in. On the other hand, that strange moving feature points to something more than the average Bluetooth speaker setup inside, and throws the entire use case into question. LG didn't give any more info on the specifics of the device, but the company has made smart speakers with Google Assistant before, so that may be the case here, as well.
Impact: The pictures showing the speaker's main body moving up and down add a whole new layer of potential functionality, up to and including modularity. This makes the device one serious enigma; until such time as LG decides to do something official with this design patent, a time which may never even come, there's no way of knowing what purpose the function serves and what impact it would have on the space. Speaking purely from speculation, it's likely intended to go beyond being merely for show; a moving speaker body seems like it would be too expensive to implement for LG to simply have the thing jump to life when it's ready to go. There are a few potential paths for extra functionality here, and they all expand how one may think of a smart speaker. The most obvious is an NFC pairing connector and perhaps charging pad for compatible smartphones, making the proposed design a true hub for the modern smart home. Another possible use case is modularity, allowing for drop-in components to do things like make the speaker louder, add a screen or camera, or a number of other add-on features. It could also be an active listening mode that opens up the speaker's main body to hear users better after a wake word is heard, that way the actual commands are heard more clearly. It could just as easily hold a party light for a perfectly normal speaker, though that seems unlikely, given LG's history in the regular and smart speaker spaces. In any case, this is a fairly innovative design, and it will be interesting to watch it develop, if LG chooses to pursue it.