In the beginning, there was “Alexa”, the virtual assistant living inside the Amazon smart speaker who was at every user’s beck and call. Then others joined the fray, like Google Assistant and Siri, and suddenly the market was crowded. But the Echo’s head start over the Google and Apple smart speaker meant the two latecomers had some catching up to do. Thus far, they haven’t. What has kept the Amazon smart speaker in the lead?
Before any analysis to determine the best smart speaker is made, it’s worth taking a look at the numbers.
The smart speaker space is a fairly new industry, with Amazon essentially creating the market in 2015. With its different versions of the Echo, Amazon wields a majority of the market share at 41% as of Q2 2018.
- Google comes in second with 27.6%
- Alibaba’s Tmall Genie is third with 7%
- Apple lands the last place with a 5.9% market share
- Eighteen percent of the market share goes to other brands
Of course, with IoT devices themselves suddenly filling up households, market dominance can no longer be quantified by market penetration alone. Since consumers use smart speakers to do everything from setting alarms and playing music to reading the news and ordering food, any true measure of success in the smart speaker space must include a look at functionality.
Therein resides Amazon’s advantage.
How Amazon Smart Speaker Has Stayed on Top
1. Deep Market Understanding
Experts and consumers prefer Amazon and Google for their ranges of smart speakers with different price points, designs and capabilities. Amazon alone offers almost a dozen iterations of the Echo. They understand that different rooms demand different smart speakers. The regular Echo would be a living room staple, while the Echo Dot is perfect for kitchens. The screen-equipped Echo Spot or the Echo Show work best in the bedrooms as alarm clocks and for weather reports.
2. Smart Display
Amazon is the first to offer smart speakers with screens, and Google is planning to roll out their Smart Displays soon. The Amazon Echo Spot and Echo Show display photos, videos, and queries. Through the display, people can make video calls more easily than they would be using a tablet. Having a screen with the smart speaker gives users more confidence in their device as they can see their commands.
Alexa can also process many Internet queries, and smart speakers like the Echo Spot and Echo Show are more suitable for the job as they both have intuitive user-experience. Users can command Alexa to browse for recipes and search for news… even order groceries.
Personalization is Amazon’s smart speaker’s strong suit. They understand that smart speakers must accommodate multiple user profiles. Therefore, Amazon smart speakers recognize different voices and respond to commands based on a person’s history of queries. Siri, from Apple HomePod, and Cortana, from Microsoft, cannot serve multiple users yet.
Amazon smart speakers also support most email accounts, such as iCloud, Gmail, G Suite, Outlook, and Office 365. Smart speakers could then have access to calendars, while other brands have very limited access to accounts and other functions.
4. Multi-Account Access
Echo speakers can create multiple timers and lists, which are shareable between multiple accounts. And since Amazon has the highest number of third-party support, these lists—shopping lists, to-do lists—can be synced with Todoist, Any.do, AnyList, and Cozi.
In terms of music, all smart speakers can play cloud-based music from any phone. But what sets Amazon speakers apart is its Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) feature. This capability makes sure that only the nearest speaker responds, and lets users play music across the house.
6. Multi-Platform Access
For a more comprehensive control over home entertainment systems, Alexa can be connected to third party hubs to control almost any media player. This includes any smart television, Blu-ray player, media streamer, audio-visual receiver, and any device with an infrared remote. Alexa can also be directly integrated with the Amazon Fire TV.
As for smart home management, Amazon Echo can be set up so a house can have multiple smart devices in each room, and multi-step routines. A multi-step routine refers to a user saying one command, and the smart speaker process different activities all at once. If a user says “good morning,” Alexa can turn on the lights, turn on the television, provide a weather report, and read the news, chronologically.
The Race Is Tightening Up
Amazon smart speaker is currently dominant, but it can’t be complacent. While Alibaba, Apple and the rest lag, Google has been ramping up smart speaker enhancements – and sales.
Of the 3.9 million units shipped in Q2 2017, 75.8% were Amazon products, while 16.1% were Google products and 8.1% were the rest. However, Q2 2018 saw 11.7 million units shipped, with 41% of them Amazon and 27.6% of them Google. The smart speaker industry may have grown, but Amazon’s lead has dwindled.
Projections have smart speaker users growing almost exponentially by the end of the year. In terms of the worldwide market, smart speaker shipments outside of the US will exceed those within, although China will only take a 4.4% slice of the market.
According to a report from Research and Markets, the US has the biggest market share in North America. Canada is another large consumer of smart speakers.
Predicting the Future
Smart speakers offer a different level of convenience, and this is the main selling point for its consumers. But Amazon’s lead will remain as long as Siri from Apple HomePod and Cortana from Microsoft cannot serve multiple users, and other products like the Sonos Beam are stuck playing “catch up”.
Only Google has emerged as the strongest competitor to Amazon in the smart speaker race. And as long as Amazon stays on the edge of innovation, they’ll hold that lead for a little while longer.