The battle now raging between the big technology companies for consumer cash is focused on Smart Speakers with integrated AI voice assistants. Having already conquered the pocket with the ubiquitous smartphone, big tech has been struggling to come up with the next must-have gadget that will open up a potentially lucrative new market - the home.
A pilot light was lit when Amazon’s Echo launched in 2014 and became a sleeper hit. The Echo is first a wireless speaker but is capable of much more and is now in its second generation with several variations available. Using nothing but the sound of your voice, the assistant uses natural language processing to play music, search the web, create to-do and shopping lists, shop online, get weather reports and dim your lights —all while your smartphone stays in your pocket.
“The last 12 months have been explosive for smart speakers, which have surged into the mass market for two reasons. Firstly, smart speakers have become the central control hubs of the smart home ecosystem,” said Ben Stanton, an analyst for Canalys. “Secondly, and most importantly, the price of smart speakers has fallen drastically.”
In the first nine months of 2017, 17.1m smart speakers shipped worldwide, according to Canalys’s data, but a further 16.1m were shipped in the last quarter of the year driven by Christmas present sales. The trend towards smart speakers becoming mainstream is expected to continue. Canalys is forecasting 70% year-on-year growth with shipments reaching over 56m units this year.
The range of tasks the smart speaker can perform is expanding rapidly with advances in machine learning and they are rapidly becoming the next big thing in the smart home. Just as smartphones did, voice assistants will inevitably migrate from the consumer market into the workplace. Driving this will be millennials who have been using Apple’s Siri on their iPhones and iPads since 2011 and Microsoft’s Cortana on their laptops since 2015.
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