Alexa’s functionality as an AI assistant continues to grow. The global Alexa skill count has now exceeded 70,000 skills, placing Alexa at the top of the list in terms of tasks it can perform when compared to other popular voice assistants. However, the majority of these skills are only available in the US. Amazon’s efforts to propel Alexa’s partner and developer ecosystem have been more successful in its home country than elsewhere, making it difficult for Amazon to offer functionality parity among different countries and languages. Amazon needs to fast-track the expansion of its ecosystems outside the US, increasing the local skill count by country and making available popular skills and features such as Alexa Blueprints in more countries around the world. Additionally, the user experience needs to be uniform across languages, offering the same functionality in non-English-speaking countries if Amazon wants to conquer new territories and consolidate its global footprint in the AI assistant race.
Amazon announced in December that its Apple Music streaming service will be supported on its Echo devices. For those Apple Music subscribers with Echo devices at home (the crossover of which will be quite large, especially in the US), this will be good news indeed. Yes, non-supported music can always be played through the speakers via a Bluetooth connection, but this always seems a few steps too many to be labelled as an elegant solution – especially when dealing with speakers that are supposed to simplify your connected world through voice commands. Ovum predicts it will also be good news for Apple Music, whose subscription base was always going to be more limited by sticking to a walled garden approach. Of course Apple is one (perhaps the only) company that has done very well out of walled garden strategies, but as its services segment becomes a more important element of Apple’s business, it now makes sense to try and maximize, rather than hinder, its overall potential. Additionally, Ovum would argue that Apple’s own smart speaker, the Apple HomePod, would also benefit from a more open approach. With the HomePod Apple tried to play the ‘enhanced experience of a closed ecosystem’ card, but to most this just came across as a limited, rather than enhanced, experience. Hopefully further announcements along these lines will come in 2019.
According to Bloomberg, Apple will launch the Apple HomePod in China in 2019. China already has a booming smart speaker market (no pun intended), but Apple will be the first of large US based companies to launch a product in the country. Apple has some significant advantages over both Amazon and Google when it comes to China. Siri is the only assistant out of the three to currently support Cantonese and Mandarin and Apple is already a relatively strong brand in the market (whereas Google services in particular are relatively restricted). But it won’t be completely plain sailing for the Apple HomePod. The Chinese market for smart speakers may be growing rapidly, but this is largely being pushed by cheaper, more value-products. The high-end smart speaker market in contrast has struggled, and although this will mean less competition for Apple’s premium brand, Apple has recently announced that sales of other premium devices such as the iPhone has started to struggle in the market as the Chinese economy slows and the trade war between the US and China continues. However, even if the premium smart home speaker market in China is a niche one, due to the country’s size this could still mean a lot of unit sales, and Apple’s early mover advantage could equal a big win for the company.
Samsung hasn’t yet officially launched its main Galaxy Home smart speaker, but the company is already working on the development of a smaller and cheaper version. The mini Galaxy Home speaker will focus on attracting mainstream consumers similar to Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, while the standard size will target a premium audience like Apple HomePod and Google Home Max speakers. The real challenge for Samsung will be to make up for the lost time in the AI assistant battlefront as other contenders such as Amazon and Google are way ahead in terms of functionality for their AI assistants when compared to Samsung’s Bixby. Recently, Samsung has opened up its new smart TV line and offered interoperability with Alexa and Google Assistant. This is a key acknowledgement of Amazon and Google’s fast-growing footprint in the smart home space and an indication that Samsung might be inclined to follow the same open approach for its smart speaker strategy, probably not at the beginning, but later depending how successful and appealing the Bixby ecosystem ends up being in the future.
British Gas has expanded its smart home offering with a connected care service oriented to give family members and carers peace of mind about the wellbeing of their elderly loved ones. The new “Hive Link” service costs £15 per month plus a one-off upfront payment of £150 for the equipment. The service includes personalized in-home set up by a British Gas engineer. British Gas has developed a non-intrusive approach to smart care that allows the elderly to have an independent lifestyle while family member and carers receive alerts on their smartphones if anything is out of the ordinary.As consumers become more familiar with concept of smart living and the cost of elderly care continues to increase, the assisted living market rapidly emerges as an attractive business opportunity for service providers. The key to stand out is to offer a simplified approach to care, not only for buyers, but also for users. Offering a consultative sales approach as well as free installation services represent key elements of British Gas strategy to reduce complexity on assisted living. However, British Gas should also revisit its pricing strategy to stay competitive in a smart home market that is rapidly dropping prices as more solutions become mainstream.
"Orange redefines its vision for the smart home at Hello Show," CES006-000054 (December 2018)
"Iliad launches its high-end x-play product: Freebox Delta," CES006-000053 (December 2018)
Digital Consumer Insights 2018: Smart Care, CES006-000051 (December 2018)
Digital Consumer Insights 2018: Digital Commerce, CES006-000049 (December 2018)
2019 Trends to Watch: Consumer and Entertainment Super-Themes, CES003-000385 (December 2018)
IoT Forecast: Consumer Electronics, 2017–22, IOT001-000023 (December 2018)
Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home
Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services