When I was a teenager I and a couple of friends remained very impressed by an anime called Serial Experimental Lain, released for the first time on July 1998. At that time Internet was just about to boom, and technologies were still primitive if compared to today standards, yet that Japanese series was so ahead of its time that predicted many things about how we users interact with computers. In the anime, characters uses their phones like we do with our smartphones, an moreover they talk with their pc using vocal assistants.
20 years ago that sounded all too futuristic, but now vocal assistants and artificial intelligence are a reality which is evolving each passing years. Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri, released for their respective OS in 2014 and 2012, missed the opportunity to left their mark in this new market. Apple can be considered a first mover in the vocal assistant market, however Siri’s users engagement is in free fall, while Cortana, even though its functionalities are well appreciated, is pointless on a pc.
THE RISE OF SMART SPEAKERS (AND AMAZON ECHO)
While vocal assistants have proven to not satisfying the users appetite on regular devices – such as pc, tablet and smartphone -, Smart Speakers are now leading a sector which analysts think will keep growing at fast pace in the next years. Jupiter Research, in a study released in November 2017, has found that Smart Speakers will be installed in over 70 million US households by 2022 and the total installed devices will rise over 175 million. Those are interesting numbers for a market that had been almost unknown prior to 2015 and it has now stolen the show from smartphones (at least in the US).
Apple and Microsoft struggled to come up with a killer innovation, while Smart Speakers silently became the next big thing in the tech market, which is now led by Amazon with its Amazon Echo. Released in 2014, Amazon Echo became a silent hit and has open up the way to a lucrative business: the home.
Amazon realized that the best way to introduce vocal assistants is right in the living room, where the user can sit on its sofa comfortably speaking with the AI (in this case Amazon Alexa) and, probably in the near future, interacting with all other connected devices.
Amazon detains nearly 65% of Smart Speaker’s market and the only competitor who seems able to keep up with the market leader is Google with its Google Home, which has almost 30% of market share and it’s growing steadily against its rival.
The infographic above made by Racounter shows clearly how Smart Speaker’s market share is divided among the competitors, as well other interesting stats, like in which rooms the Smart Speakers are usually located. Google Home, even though it was launched one year later than Echo (in US), is catching up to its rival very fast, while Apple and Microsoft seem to be arrived late to the party.
Microsoft has teamed up with Harman Kardon, a Samsung subsidiary, to make a Smart Speaker based Microsoft’s Cortana, but the device failed to impress the customers. Apple launched the HomePod speaker in February in US at $349 and in UK at £319, which is quite an high price if we think that Echo cheaper version is available for just £49.99/$49.99 and Siri still struggles to understand people. The HomePod may have better sound capabilities compared to Echo and Google Home but when it comes to voice assistance It’s not controversial to say that Siri is worse than Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant.
The battle of voice assistants has just begun and the market is expected to grow at fast pace, but it would probably be just a battle between Google and Amazon, like it was with Samsung and Apple in the smartphone market. The home business however opens up the way to all sorts of smart gadgets and intelligent household appliances that will interact with our faithful virtual assistants and here there is certainly a lot of room for many other manufactures.