As an industry, the IoT (Internet of Things) space has been talking about smart home for what seems like a long time, and though progress is being made in connecting home appliances and devices ranging from connected security cameras, doorbells, and thermostats to entertainment devices such as smart TVs and speakers, truly connected homes are the exception rather than the rule. Interoperability remains a hurdle for consumers who want to connect disparate systems within their homes so each device and system works seamlessly with the others.
Adoption of smart speakers and their built-in personal assistants powered by AI (artificial intelligence) is on the rise and, in some ways, contributing to the confusion in the home control ecosystem. Thanks to advancing technologies in the areas of machine learning and natural language processing, among others, the market for voice-controlled personal assistants has grown tremendously, particularly with the introduction of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home. In fact, Parks Associates, www.parksassociates.com, says 56% of U.S. broadband households are attracted to the idea of using voice assistance to control their smart home devices, and, in 2016 alone, Amazon, www.amazon.com, sold 15.3 million Amazon Echo devices, which feature Amazon Alexa.
Amazon and Google, www.google.com, may have been quicker to market, but there’s a new kid in town now: Apple, www.apple.com, with its Apple HomePod smart speaker. HomePod features Siri, the same AI personal assistant technology featured on millions of Apple smartphones. With the introduction of HomePod, which is meant to appeal to audiophiles as well as the loyal Apple fan base, consumers have even more choices when it comes to building smart-home systems. Do they go with Amazon, perhaps because they have an Amazon Prime subscription? Do they go the Google route because they have a Chromecast device? Or do they go with Apple because they own an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch or subscribe to Apple Music? What if consumers dabble in all three ecosystems? More likely than not, if consumers choose to mix and match products and services among different vendors, they won’t be able to fully optimize their experience.
No matter which way you slice it, the stage is being set for a great battle to be waged in AI, and whichever vendor “wins” in the smart speaker space may find it has a leg up in commanding the home control and smart home realms as well. When it comes to AI-enabled smart speakers, Amazon has the advantage of being quicker to market. It has an established customer base, a range of affordable device options, and a good reputation with Alexa. Parks Associates says the Alexa Skills Kit has grown by about 40% since January 2016, exceeding 10,000 skills and growing. The Google Home suite of products with its Google Assistant technology is also continuing to build its AI platform functionality with additions like Google Express, a delivery network for home shopping.
Apple seems to be differentiating its HomePod speaker by focusing first on its sound quality and music-related smarts (the latest Siri-related intelligence involves a deeper knowledge of music) and second on the home assistant and home control capabilities. However, with SiriKit on HomePod coming soon, it’s safe to assume that no head start is safe when Apple enters a race, especially if iPhone users see HomePod as a way to ensure interoperability with the devices they already own.
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