Alexa is absolutely crushing the smart assistant competition.
Amazon’s line of AI voice-controlled Echo speakers gobbled up a massive 70.7 percent of the marketshare in the first forecast on digital assistant usage by business research firm eMarketer. Alexa-enabled devices lapped the next closest competitor, Google, by nearly 50 percent of the marketshare, as just 23.8 percent of users reported they’ll use the Home speaker. “Others,” which include offerings from Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon, and Mattel, hold just 5.6 percent of users.
The forecast reports 35.6 million Americans said they’ll use a voice-activated assistant device — defined as a “standalone device whose core functionality is a voice-enabled digital assistant” — at least once a month this year. This is eMarketer’s first look at the burgeoning smart assistant market, but the firm claims the devices’ usage has ramped up 128.9 percent from last year.
Amazon rules the smart hub roost now, but that could be in large part due to its early entry into the market. The first Alexa-enabled speaker, the Echo, was released back in June 2015, while Google waited until the holiday season of 2016 to roll out the Home, more than a full year later. Because of this head start, eMarketer’s analysts predict Amazon will hold onto that top spot even as Google and other competitors gain ground.
More general virtual assistant usage, factoring in OG Apple AI assistant Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, is growing, too. eMarketer reports 60.5 million Americans said they’ll use one of the virtual assistants at least once a month, up 23.1 percent from last year. That number encapsulates 27.5 percent of smartphone users and nearly a fifth of the entire population of the U.S., almost doubling the number of people using the AI assistants.
Apple’s lurking in the background
Apple is notably missing from the marketshare forecast, but that’s not an oversight. The company offers the AI in the iPhone and other devices with a key component lacking in the Echo and Home systems: screens.
Apple’s SVP Phil Schiller recently went on record about his feelings about the speaker-based voice assistants like Echo and Home in an interview with NDTV’s Gadgets 360, and why Siri won’t ever be just a disembodied voice in a speaker hub.
“Well, I won’t talk to either one specifically, [I] don’t want to,” he said of Google and Amazon. “My mother used to have a saying that if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all.”
OK, Thumper — we all remember that little nugget of wisdom from Bambi.
Schiller continued to talk about his qualms with AI speakers like Home and Echo nonetheless. His main issue: the lack of a screen hampering the usefulness of an AI assistant. “I think voice assistants are incredibly powerful, their intelligence is going to grow, they’re gonna do more for us, but the role of the screen is gonna remain very important to all of this,” he said.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Apple is rumored to be developing its own smart home hub to take on Alexa and Google Assistant. The device, which reliable leaker Sonny Dickson claims could be announced at Apple’s upcoming World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) event in June, is purported to feature Beats technology for the speaker system and, following Schiller’s inclinations, will run a version of iOS with a touchscreen.
Images of what could be Amazon’s next-gen, touchscreen-sporting Alexa hub, internally dubbed “Knight,” also recently leaked, so Alexa surely won’t just be a voice in a box for long. Apple’s waiting in the wings, however — so the competition to be your personal assistant is bound to heat up even more into a three horse race between the biggest companies in the world.