To hear Apple’s many critics and the nattering nabobs of negativism tell it, Apple missed the home assistant talking speaker market entirely. Uh huh. Right. So, it’s time to give money back to shareholders and shut it down, right? Uh, no.
Here’s the problem with that consensus. I call it nonsensical rubbish. This home assistant talking speaker market is about as close to infancy as a tech gadget market can be. Apple is said to be three years behind a market that is barely two years old. How does that happen? New math.
The Real Math
Let me keep this analysis brief. First, I’ll define the home assistant talking speaker market in two words. Amazon Echo. Three words if you need me to be verbose. Amazon Echo Alexa. Alexa is Amazon’s counter to Apple’s Siri, a voice representing artificial intelligence. Siri has languished in recent years because Apple’s executives were too busy to notice a new gadget market had developed. Busy? Hey, it takes time to count executive bonuses, and stock options.
Second, I’m certain the home assistant talking speaker market is nascent because I know exactly four people besides me who own and use Amazon Echo, and my official survey says most of us don’t use it much because Alexa– the faceless headless voice of Echo– doesn’t really do much, certainly not much more than the recently revamped Siri which resides all over my place; two Macs, two iPads, old iPhone and iPhone X.
Third, Amazon won’t say how many Echo and Alexa combos have been sold but the company is cranking them out every few weeks it seems. Echo, 2nd generation Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, Echo Show, Echo Look. That many models tells me Amazon thinks it’s on to something and it might be but as to how big the market is, it’s anyone’s guess. Estimates for Echo sales range from a few million to perhaps 20-million. That’s less than some conservative Apple Watch estimates and that’s a failure, right?
Finally, the only other real competitor in this gadget segment is Google Home, also with a few models, and the famous Google Assistant as the voice front for their home assistant talking speaker market representative. Yes, there may be others pushing such wares and surely Samsung is waiting for Apple to release its own home assistant talking speaker market entry, but they don’t count. Simply put, there isn’t much of a market here. Yet.
Let me compare the two major players and a major player wannabe. Echo, Home, HomePod.
HomePod is not yet shipping but is priced at the high end of the segment– $349. The key point of differentiation is the HomePod’s speaker system which is said to be high end vs. Amazon and Google’s efforts. We’ll see.
Google Home is mostly an Amazon Echo copycat. Typical Google. A co-worker has Home and it’s pretty good. Not the sound. Google Assistant is good. What you won’t find are many applications ready to install to compete with Amazon Echo, but the market is nascent so build it and they will come. Google Assistant in Home does not work as well as Alexa in Echo– lack of apps– but answers queries with more accuracy and authority. Siri is dead last in this group. Just remember that Google’s livelihood depends upon culling personal information from you and what better way than to get into the home assistant talking speaker market?
Amazon Echo is the low end leader. Alexa continues to improve and Amazon’s goal is to put an Echo into every room and closet of your home; always on, always listening, always trying to find new ways to sell you something. Hey, that’s what Amazon does, right?
Personally, I like Google Home’s design better, and Google Assistant is an improvement over Alexa. Echo devices come across as utilitarian and machine-like, while Google Home and HomePod look more like living room accessories.
None of this really matters much– not Amazon Echo’s lead, not Google’s Home entry, not some futuristic device from Microsoft, and not Apple’s delay in shipping HomePod. This market is anything but mature. Two or three years down the road the market will be different. Besides, we know how Apple works. The company seldom is first to the party and often tardy. iPod. iPhone. iPad. Apple TV, Watch. AirPods. Many others had similar products long before Apple and yet You Know Who™ dominates revenue and profits if not mindshare, right?
The home assistant talking speaker race has started but I do not expect to see a dominant player for a few more years, if ever.