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Can Amazon Maintain Their Smart Speaker Dominance?

Amazon are leading the pack when it comes to Smart Speakers right now. As is often the case with tech, they haven’t done this by necessarily being the best but with a combination of being first, clever marketing and competitive pricing. All this means that ‘Alexa’ is the first name most people think of when it comes to Personal Voice Assistants. But, now with Google and other providers hot on their heels does the internet shopping giant have the chops to stay out in front?

According to a survey in the US conducted by Voiceboy.ai and Voysis Amazon Echo’s share of the Smart-Speaker market declined by 8% (to 62%) in May 2018 whilst Google’s Home share grew by the same proportion. With Amazon still owning around 3/4 of the World’s Smart Speaker market, there is no need to hit the panic button yet but I’m sure that shift has a few Amazon bigwigs are nervously checking their daily sales figures.

Amazon’s tactic for staying out in front are pretty obvious… fix two of the biggest problems that currently face’s Voice First technology.

The first issue is user retention. According to the Wall Street Journal; 84% of Voice-Apps are disused and forgotten about within 2 weeks of their first installation. Why? Currently, they just aren’t good enough.

Whilst Smart Speakers are great at controlling smart homes, playing music and performing search functions there are very few apps that fulfil a real NEED and keep users coming back for more. This was also the case with the early smartphone apps – there is a struggle to realise the potential of this new technology.

How do you fix this? You keep trying. Amazon has always been good at encouraging new developers to get under the bonnet of Alexa and make new and exciting Voice Apps. They have great online resources for developers and offer “prizes” for the best performing Skills. They’ve even started to slide open the door to monetization in recent months.

This support is showing no signs of slowing. Attendees to the recent “Voice Summit” at the New Jersey Institute of Technology would have witnessed Amazon not only flexing its muscles but also offering a helping hand. Live Coding Session, Q&A sessions and Voice Workshops (similar to those offered at Amazon Alexa events around the globe) were on offer to upskill current developers and encourage those with a passing interest to get involved. Event founder Pete Erikson explains (via Forbes):

“Amazon has a head start in the market. They are very interested in making sure the developers know how to build their first Alexa skills, do more with them, or learn how to monetize.”

This isn’t a show of philanthropy from the market leader, it’s purely driven from self-interest. If the Alexa platform can offer the most intelligent apps, the most engaging games and the most creative voice entertainment then they have a massive advantage over their rivals. None of their competitors seems to offer this level of encouragement or support.

This level of support is mirrored in their work with brands as they continue to encourage and attract the biggest brands to dip their toe’s in the Voice Pool – further reason to bring users to their Smart Speaker platform, and (tellingly) into the Amazon eco-system.

Secondly, as I’ve discussed before on this Blog, Alexa (and other Smart Speaker devices) needs to learn to communicate better if it is to become a truly frictionless interface.

Voice is the most natural form of communication so it is important that Alexa can communicate in a natural way. The importance of this is illustrated with this lovely analogy from David Isbitski, Alexa’s “Cheif Evangelist” at Amazon:

“Oratory is what we do as a human race. Machines are finally catching up. We can begin to understand context. … My mom still prints out emails from my dad, but he talks to Alexa all day long and asks for weather, music, etc.”

David’s dad (probably) talks to Alexa in the same way he would address someone in a post office; with natural conversational language rather than the sometimes complex command strings that Alexa requires to complete some tasks. So, Alexa must learn to understand conversation if it is to communicate properly with the “David’s Dads” of this world. A user can only hear “Sorry, I don’t understand” so many times before returning to their SmartPhone screen.

Google has an advantage here. Their years of search-engine research means they know how people request functions and ask questions (even if it is via text rather than speech) and so Amazon has some catching up to do.
We know Amazon is working hard on their “natural language understanding” to make user interaction as error-free and comfortable as possible and if they get this right, combined with the right Skills on offer, they could stretch their market share even further and see off the potential challenge or Google in the battle for Market dominance.

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