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Google sets higher goals for the smart home at “Hey Google” Smart Home Summit

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

After the cancellation of Google I/O 2020 because of COVID-19, the company hosted a virtual event in July 2020 to announce strategic enhancements to its smart home platform and introduce new features and tools for the developer community. The summit has offered important updates on Google’s vision for the smart home and insight on the company’s ambition to build deeper in-home integrations via Google Assistant.

Google’s strong software development expertise and ongoing financial support for the developer community have been major competitive differentiators in the race for the AI-enabled smart home. All of Google’s recent initiatives in this area have been introduced to help developers create better experiences for the end user. Now, Google needs to talk directly to consumers and explain how these improvements will translate into everyday life via different applications and uses cases at home. This means providing clarity on how the promise of new smart home device control on Android 11 and a tighter Google Assistant integration with Nest devices will actually help create a more cohesive smart home experience.

 

Google buys stake in ADT

Blake Kozak, Senior Principal Analyst, Smart Home & Appliances

Google has announced it will buy a 6.6% stake in ADT for $450m. The brands will also commit $150m each for co-marketing, product development, and employee training, according to Reuters and ADT. The news of Google and ADT partnering could be the initial step that disrupts the smart home and alarm monitoring markets, but at the outset, this partnership is not entirely different than others the market has seen in recent years. The main difference being Google invested $450m, something it didn’t do when partnering with Brinks Home Security (MONI).

The short-term impact of this partnership is an influx of new business for both Google and ADT. For Google, it means more sales of its hardware and Nest Aware service through channels that align better with the Google messaging which has a tendency to favor professional assistance and curated partnerships—compared to Amazon that is more focused on volume and using Alexa Fund to test what products will work with consumers. The short-term impact for ADT will be a boost in alarm accounts that come with fewer costs. Plus, ADT will get this boost with minimal marketing efforts due to the strength of Google’s brand.

 

Amazon promotes new developer tools to improve the Alexa experience at “Alexa Live 2020”

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home Services

Amazon has introduced 31 new features and tools designed to help the developer community create better Alexa skills and improve the overall user experience. Some key examples include the change to a deep neural networks (DNN) model and the launch of Alexa Conversations, name-free interactions (NFI) toolkit, and skill resumption, among others. Overall, the virtual event has been a platform to promote Amazon’s vision for Alexa and renew its ongoing support for developers and device makers to help expand Alexa’s functionality and ubiquity.

Omdia believes the new features and tools will simplify the development and maintenance of Alexa skills, allowing Amazon and its partner ecosystem to concentrate on other aspects of the Alexa experience that are crucial to keep users engaged, such as the creation of innovative functionally and access to new applications. Moreover, new features such as the NFI toolkit and skill resumption will make Alexa a more proactive personal assistant able to infer from context and history. This will reduce current frictions when using the assistant, increasing user engagement not only with the AI assistant per se, but also with a growing number of brands and application providers willing to invest in the creation of far-reaching voice experiences designed to support service delivery.

 

Amazon updates the Alexa mobile app strategy

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Amazon has brushed up the Alexa app, introducing several changes to the visual interface designed to provide a more personalized and useful experience while increasing user engagement. The most evident change is how Amazon has moved the Alexa button to a more prominent position in the app to encourage users to speak instead of tapping. Considering how Amazon has been trying to promote voice-first experiences since the beginning, this update represents a long overdue strategy development. Moreover, the new key role of Alexa in the mobile app will help increase usage on-the-go, creating a new set of voice experiences that Amazon is keen to promote with first-party and third-party skills.

Another important development for the user experience is the access to real-time chat support for queries. Amazon is well known for its high-touch approach to customer support and this new feature is meant to increase customer satisfaction levels and make Alexa a more useful personal assistant. In an ideal world, Alexa should be able to answer the customer query instead of a support representative, but until Amazon finishes to develop the full potential of its AI assistant the most immediate measure is to offer a channel to interact with a human being to find a response.

 

Logitech discontinues the Alexa–built-in Harmony Express remote

Michael Philpott, Research Director, Service Provider – Consumer

Not being able to master the multiple remote controls required to carry out such a simple task as turning the TV on to your favored TV channel (via of course the TV set-top-box and not forgetting the sound system) has been the theme of many comedy sketches. Simplifying this problem created a whole new industry around independent, integrated remote controls that control all media devices. Such devices in themselves are inherently quite complex, consisting of a bewildering number of buttons required to perform the different functions on different devices. With the Harmony Express remote, Logitech looked to take the next step and simplify the independent remote—significantly cutting down the number of physical buttons by replacing them with voice commands via Alexa. After just over a year on the market however, Logitech has pulled the plug on the device after sales failed to “live up to expectations.”

No explanation was given for the failure—perhaps the typical customer base for a Logitech remote just like buttons, however, there is a growing trend towards more integrated functionality (especially around voice control) that in Omdia’s opinion will spell the end of devices such as independent remote controls and hubs. Why have a separate device if the same functionality is already provided by a more central hub, such as the TV itself or a smart speaker? Tech vendors need to recognize this trend and shift their R&D roadmap if they are not waste further investment.

 

Appendix

Further reading

Google sets higher goals for the smart home at “Hey Google” Smart Home Summit, CES006-000142 (July 2020)

Apple WWDC 2020: Key Consumer and Entertainment Trends, CES004-000160 (July 2020)

Consumer AI Survey, CES003-000853 (July 2020)

 

Author

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home Services

Blake Kozak, Senior Principal Analyst, Smart Home & Appliances

Michael Philpott, Research Director, Service Provider – Consumer

[email protected]

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