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Voice-controlled speakers are one of the primary interfaces through which consumers are interacting with voice-based intelligent personal assistants.
Therefore it's no surprise that two of tech's biggest names, Google and Amazon, are battling to control the market for these devices.
Thus far, it appears that Amazon is winning according to eMarketer, which says that Amazon's lineup of Alexa-powered Echo speaker devices will capture 70.6% of the market this year, handily beating Google's Home device, which will capture 23.8% of the market.
While the size of the market is still small, it's growing rapidly. eMarketer predicts that just over 35m Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month in 2017, a nearly 129% increase over last year.
eMarketer believes that Amazon's share of the market will fall in coming years at Google's expense, but the research firm still expects that "Amazon will remain the dominant player in the category for the foreseeable future."
And there's little reason to believe that Google can do anything to change that.
In April of this year, Amazon unveiled the Echo Look, a $200 fashion-centric voice-activated personal assistant that features a camera capable of taking full-length photos and videos. It's integrated with Style Check, an Amazon service that offers up fashion recommendations, making it a potentially perfect voice-controlled speaker Trojan horse to lure millions of consumers who love fashion.
But Amazon isn't stopping there. Last week, it announced yet another Echo device, the Echo Show, which features a 7-inch screen, phone and videoconferencing capabilities. Amazon's pitch:
Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.
The new device will bring to four the total number of voice-activated personal assistant devices Amazon sells. The other three devices are the Echo, Echo Dot and aforementioned Echo Look. Google only offers one Google Home device.
The Amazon advantages
Beyond its ability to launch new devices tailored to specific price points and consumer groups, Amazon has a number of advantages over Google. These include:
- Amazon Music. One of the most popular applications for voice-controlled speakers is music. Both Amazon and Google's devices integrate with a number of popular services, such as Spotify and Pandora, and Google has its own music service, Google Play Music. But Amazon arguably has an edge here because it gives its tens of millions of Prime members free access to Prime Music, a streaming service that offers more than 2m songs. For an additional $7.99 per month, Prime members can upgrade to Prime Unlimited, which offers 10m songs including new releases.
- Voice commerce. In addition to a compelling music streaming service, Amazon gives owners of Echo devices the ability to place Amazon orders by voice. This is arguably one of the Echo devices' biggest selling points and despite the fact that Google does allow Google Home owners to place voice orders for Google Express, there's simply no comparing Google Express to the Amazon marketplace.
- A means to make money without advertising. Google makes the bulk of its money from text-based search ads and a number of analysts have noted that increased use of voice search could eventually cut into this revenue stream. While Google has stated that it wouldn't distribute audio ads via Google Home, at least not yet, it has already sort of broken this promise. Because of its retail business and Amazon Prime, Amazon can avoid thorny advertising-based monetization techniques if it so chooses. Google seemingly can't.
Obviously, Google should have an advantage over Amazon's Alexa personal assistant when it comes to search – and apparently does in the eyes of some thus far – but it looks like Google will have a far harder time catching up to Amazon outside of search.
Given that Amazon already has a sizable lead over Google in the voice-controlled speaker market and is adding new devices and features at a more rapid pace, it might not be too early to declare Amazon the likely winner of the space and for companies integrating their services into the Alexa and Actions on Google platforms to hedge their bets accordingly.