I must admit: when I started our Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) Speaker forecast snapshot (see: Forecast Snapshot: VPA-Enabled Wireless Speakers, Worldwide, 2016-2021), the assumptions were that Amazon’s Echo products were first to establish the market, but over time two challenges would happen:
- commodity vendors would adopt VPAs into their cost-reduced / white labeled designs and compete on price.
- other providers of VPAs, most notably Apple with Siri, would compete for market share.
Today’s news of Apple’s postponement of the anticipated HomePod shipping date shows that it’s not that easy:
- So I bought this device called JAM Voice Speaker to check out what a $30 Echo Dot-knockoff would look and sound like. Turns out it doesn’t support my 5GHz WiFi network, and even when hooking up to a 2.4GHz port, I couldn’t get the darn thing connected. I ended up returning it, figuring that two hours of futile setup is worth more than $20 price delta.
- Lenovo’s Home Device hit CES 2017 with fanfare: nice design, Alexa-enabled, but… you know… not from Amazon. Almost a year later, I see next to zero market impact. Is it even shipping?
- And now: Apple HomePod – quasi-announced earlier this year as a premium audio (btw-what does that actually mean? Is that quantifiable or are we assuming that because it’s Apple it’s got to be premium-something?) – is pulling out of the race for my x-mas budget. Maybe being 2 years late to the game and charging 2x of comparable products can’t be compensated, not even by the Apple brand experience.
Google Home came later than Amazon Echos, but by sheer presence in bricks&mortar channels (go to any Best Buy and see what I mean!), it captured at least some measurable share. Plus, by chromecasting audio/video content, and managing smart home services, Google Home is now a serious player (still need to verify the claims Google is making of the Home Max!).
There’s something to be said for the resiliency of Amazon Echo and Google Home. Both product lines feature great devices. The multi-modal experiences of Echo Show and Echo Spot (see: Market Trends: VPA Speakers, Worldwide, 2017) are raising the bar even further. Not to mention the barriers created by ecosystem partners (Amazon has over 25,000 skills applications by now).
Samsung is smart by not going head-on with Alexa and Google Assistnat and declaring Bixby a “personal agent”, primarily managing the features of the devices it’s embedded in (i.e. Galaxy phones), otherwise it would be hard to challenge the incumbents!
- it’s hard to challenge the incumbents Amazon and Google in the VPA Speaker space.
- if you’re an ecosystem player, your biggest bang for your R&D spend is around Alexa and Google Assistant skills.
- jury is still out on devices that natively implement VPAs (e.g. GE’s “C by GE LED Lamp”) so watch upcoming Gartner research coverage for developments in that area.
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