Can the home assistant duopoly be broken?

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The battle of the home assistants. Who will win this Christmas?

It feels as though the consumer hype over home assistants sprung on us overnight. At first, we were dabbling around with Siri on our iPhones, and now, an estimated 8% of US households are in possession of an Amazon Echo speaker.

Voice search is developing at a very fast pace. In fact, it currently amounts to 1% of all digital interactions. In addition, Gartner research revealed that 30% of searches will be without a screen by 2020. This is an inevitable progression, since most people can speak up to four times faster than they can type on a screen.

The home assistant duopoly

At the moment, the competition is fierce between Google and Amazon, but both have a very different business model. Amazon Echo offers the efficiency of e-commerce through Amazon, while allowing consumers to use a variety of impressive applications for the home. Due to the data that Amazon currently holds on consumers through its Prime memberships, buying through the device is a seamless process. Those with an Amazon Echo also have access to a suite of over 10,000 compatible Alexa skills, allowing the home assistant to connect an application (including products such as Phillips Hues lightbulbs), order a pizza through Domino’s or a taxi through Uber.

However, reviews have stated that the search functionality on Amazon Alexa (operated by Bing) lacks the semantic understanding of what a person is searching for, meaning consumers are heavily relying on Alexa’s 'skills’ to respond to the majority of their queries. This is in contrast to Google Home which uses Google’s semantic search functionality to remember the context of previous questions for follow ups.

Google Home hit the market a lot later than the Amazon Echo. Despite this, it’s clear that a device powered by Google can be hugely powerful. As Google Home is also linked to other Google apps like Gmail, Maps and Calendar, the device is not only responsive to tasks but also predictive, and can use the data that it holds on consumers to tailor the content that it delivers.

One restriction for both devices is that both currently operate in English. However, Google recently added 30 more languages to its voice typing technology, and this is expected to be rolled out to other voice devices in the near future.

Naturally, weighing up who will win the battle between the home assistants is subjective and depends on how a consumer engages with a device.

The challengers

This December, Apple is releasing its answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home, with the launch of the HomePod – powered by Siri. Of all the latest developments explored, this could be hugely disruptive to the market, as loyal Apple customers will be more inclined to purchase a product that they deem superior.

Apple’s HomePod will offer a far superior internal speaker, reflected in the predicted cost. Apple’s premium price-tag coupled with its focus on audio might struggle to convince the bulk of consumers. However, the December launch is a smart move as the holiday gifting season makes this a peak time for voice assistant sales. There was also a large social media spike around the HomePod announcement compared with its competitors, showing wide consumer interest.

Facebook’s recent purchase of AI startup Ozlo, highlights its move into AI and voice, in the long term, this will be a key part of building its personal assistant ‘M’ on its Messenger platform. Could we see a home assistant from Facebook in the foreseeable future? Watch this space.

Who will win?

In summary, Amazon appears to be the front runner in the home assistant market currently due to its first mover advantage. Its model is tested and offers a very efficient shopping experience. Amazon’s only let-down is its limited search functionality and conveniently, this is where Google excels. Google’s tireless drive to improve its tech could mean it will have the potential to out-do Amazon eventually. However, with Apple now in close pursuit, there is every reason that both brands should feel uneasy. This creates a difficult situation for advertisers looking to experiment with voice assistants and means that for now efforts to utilise voice will have to work on several fronts.

Tom Smith is head of biddable media at mporium.

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