Google announced a series of upgrades for the Google Home and the Google Assistant at its I/O developer conference on Wednesday. The news falls into two categories:
- New markets: Google Home will be available this summer in Australia, the UK, France, Canada, Germany, and Japan. That’s a big expansion — currently, it’s only available in the US.
- New features: A new feature called Proactive Assistant will allow Google to give advice to users without being prompted. That will let users get an unsolicited recommendation to turn down the temperature when it’s hot out, for example. Google also announced a feature that will enable users to call other devices and phone numbers, as well as link their own mobile number to the device. And a new SDK will allow third-party hardware developers to built the Assistant into their devices, meaning it could soon come to devices like thermostats, where Alexa already is.
It’s becoming clear that Google is working hard to boost its competitive standing in the smart speaker market. Amazon is king there now, with an estimated 9.17 million US households holding Echo devices. That dwarfs Google’s market share — a BI Intelligence survey found that 8% of respondents owned an Echo, while just 2% owned a Google Home. But Google has been moving fast to enhance the device’s capabilities to bring it up to speed with competitors, by beginning to allow third-party developers to add their own skills last year, and introducing multi-user functionality last month. These latest announcements expand on those, and make Google more readily able to take on the Echo line.
Google is well-positioned to close the gap with Amazon, but it’ll take a long time. Amazon’s Echo, which launched first, is beginning to see its early mover advantage erode. Here’s why the Home and Google Assistant have the best shot of overtaking the Echo products’ dominance:
- Google Home is quickly becoming more useful than Alexa. Google Home’s calling feature can reach real phone numbers for free, whereas Amazon’s can only reach other Echo users, thus limiting its utilities. And Proactive Assistant makes the speaker more valuable and indispensable to users. These could bring in customers that are looking for additional benefits and use cases that make their products more of a utility than a toy.
- And that could outweigh Amazon’s broader product line. Since the products launched in 2014, there have been four other products released — the Dot, Tap, Look, and Show. But consumers don’t love these new devices, the Echo Look in particular — 55% of respondents to a 2017 Business Insider survey said they probably would never buy the device. Building in new products pales in comparison to Google’s extensive skill development, which could hit Amazon hard down the line.
The US smart home market has still yet to meet the expectations many observers had in the early part of this decade.
The same issues BI Intelligence first identified back in 2015 still plague the space — persistently high prices, technological fragmentation, and consumers’ lack of a perceived benefit from the devices.
But the newfound popularity of smart home voice control has revolutionized smart home ecosystems across the country, and convinces more consumers to equip their homes with smart devices on a daily basis. The Amazon Echo, released in 2014, has become immensely popular and capable, awakening users to the utility of both voice control and smart home devices. This has prompted companies to rush to release competing devices and integrate voice control into their smart home ecosystems.
Nicholas Shields, research analyst for BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has compiled a detailed report that examines the overall state of the US smart home market — both the professionally and self-installed markets. It also analyzes the factors driving demand for smart home devices and smart home voice speakers, and discusses the future of voice control in the home.
Here are some key takeaways from the report:
- Voice control is becoming a key remote interface within the home, a trend that began with the introduction of the Amazon Echo in 2014. Since then, Google, Samsung, and Apple have all integrated voice control into their smart home ecosystems.
- While progress has been made, prices are still too high and consumers still have yet to show strong demand for smart home devices.
- The US smart home market is only now entering the mass market phase of consumer adoption and overcoming the chasm that it sat in back in 2015.
In full, the report:
- Analyzes current consumer demand for smart home devices based off results from BI Intelligence’s proprietary survey.
- Forecasts future growth in the number of smart home devices installed in American homes.
- Analyzes the factors influencing the proliferation of voice control devices in the homes.
- Identifies and analyzes the market strategies of various companies that have integrated voice control into their smart home ecosystems.
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