Right now, certainly in the UK & USA, the Smart Speaker roost is being dominated by the Amazon Alexa.
Estimates for the market share currently held by Amazon’s Voice Assistant hover around the 70%-75% market. To some performing voice, searches are becoming known as “Asking Alexa” no matter what voice assistant you are addressing. In the same way, Google became synonymous with search engine results and Hoover became the catch-all term for Vacuum cleaners, Amazon Alexa is becoming intrinsically linked with ‘Voice’.
Apple (Siri), Samsung (Bixby) and Google (Home) of course all have their versions of the Alexa (along with others) but with such a massive lead over their competitors, is it possible that Amazon will ever have a true competitor?
Amazon has taken a clear approach to ensure that their device is at the front of peoples minds when it comes to Virtual Assistants. Flashy advertising campaigns and a “stack them high, sell them cheap” policy has seen most users turn to the Amazon brand first when taking their first step into the world of Voice First and, understandably brands have followed suit.
Alexa Skills have seemingly taken priority for many companies over, for example, building a Google Action in a similar way to in the past developers of Apps would focus on iOS over Android. It makes perfect sense. They’re easier to build, provide access to a wider market and the low tech “Flash Briefing” function allows brands to dip a toe in the voice-first pool without a big investment of time or a massive amount of technical knowledge.
You also have to consider the way that the Amazon “Ecosystem” is dominating the home. Lights, Clocks, Microwaves, Fridges and even Cars can now be found with Alexa built-in. Partly this is to help customers experience a seamless, automated life but it is also, it’s an attempt to dominate this space and make it more difficult for customers to move away from their prefered Virtual Assistant.
There is a keen rivalry between the two dominant brands. Google has been banned from selling its devices on Amazon’s market place and, in retaliation, Google has blocked YouTube from Amazon’s devices (which you think would be a negative for consumers on both sides).
In this particular tech war, it is beginning to look like un unassailable market-leading position for the Alexa brand. Although I do wonder if it matters and how this brand loyalty will pan out?
We are at the very beginning of the Voice First journey and currently forecasters can only guess at what future the medium has. However, it is widely accepted that Voice Assistants of the future won’t be contained within small speakers but will live around us in any IoT connected device. This in itself changes the game.
Suddenly the device that delivers the content becomes much less important than it is right now. Even if Amazon still dominate the hardware in the home the user experience and content available via each of the voice assistants will be far more important now. Consider now how an internet user access web content. The browser they use is much less important than the content itself and even the hardware is secondary. Smart Speakers (or rather more Voice Assistants will follow this same progression).
There will still be a certain amount of brand loyalty. Users will become familiar with a certain voice and a certain way of communication but, above all, creating frictionless communication and delivering high-quality content will be key. Just like other mediums; Podcast vs Radio or TV vs Streaming; The content is primary. The delivery method is secondary.
This particular battle has already begun.
Amazon is attempting to tie users into their “Prime Music” ecosystem and Smart Homes whilst Google, as mentioned, will take advantage of their YouTube exclusivity (particularly as we see more screen-based devices enter the market). The victor here will be who invests in exclusive content first. In a similar way that we’ve seen with Amazon and Netflix, we could see competition for the biggest names, providers and brands with key players holding exclusive licences for the audience’s favourite content.
For me, the real opportunity, however, is user experience. Right now, Voice still often feels clunky and frustrating. It’s improving on virtually a daily basis but it is still a work in progress. The OS that can offer the most natural, frictionless and intuitive interaction model will have a massive advantage in this space.
Alexa may have the advantage in hardware right now but in terms of UX it’s a more even race. Amazon has encouraged developers to explore the space and create interesting content and voice apps giving them the edge here whilst Google have used their experience in web search and user behaviour to continuously improve their voice experience.
To butcher a famous analogy; Voice is a marathon, not a sprint and although Alexa may be leading the pack at the end of mile one there is a long way to go, and a load of twists and turns before anyone can pick up the gold medal of market dominance.