Amazon v. Apple: Home game grudge match

When will Apple take on Amazon in the smart home?

Alexa is everywhere. In your car. In your home. Even your baby monitor. Amazon’s smart assistant already owns around 25 percent of the HiFi speakers market, and its home help hold is growing.

Will Apple take the online retailer on in this sexy sector, or is Siri on the iPhone good enough?

Siri’s lost temple

Apple was pretty much first to enter the smart assistant market with Siri.

Since then we’ve seen all the tech titans deliver their own take, with eternal fast follower, Samsung, even buying Viv, a voice assistant tech developed by the same people who developed Siri.

You could argue that Apple failed to fully exploit its first mover advantage by putting Siri inside more things, while the slow evolution of HomeKit means Cupertino has work to do to put its smarts inside smart homes.

Poor Siri even has a public image problem: even though it performs really well against competitors in objective tests, there’s strong public perception that it doesn’t. These factors and others combine to make it seem like Apple is slow at getting Siri inside the home.

Alternative facts

Amazon’s aim may be to gather the kind of big data stack it needs to effectively sell products to people, including digital products. However, the behind the scenes technologies that drives smart speaker solutions from every firm aren’t just about marketing, they are about A.I.

In future such solutions will be able to respond to problems you didn’t know you had yet, and developing that kind of machine intelligence is a big, big challenge.

In this context the long-term advantage sits with the firms that deliver the most effective A.I. solutions tomorrow, rather than providing tomorrow’s obsolescent gadgets today.

This means Apple may think its effort is best spent on figuring out how to provide an effective, secure, private form of A.I. upon which to underpin the future of its assistant. It may want to create A.I. "for the rest of us," with a focus on human need, rather than ads sales of product marketing.

All the same, history shows us not every tech firm will make the cut.

Discovery matters

Once you get your product inside a home the challenge is to make sure it is used.

When it comes to smart home tech, I don’t think consumers want to figure out how to individually train every single gadget in their home to handle voice commands. If you want the kind of convenience promised by smart home tech, you want that convenience straight out of the box. Anything else isn’t convenient at all.

This looks like a problem.

There are signs of people not sticking with the voice apps for the products they try. VoiceLabs points out that just 3 percent of consumers keep using them in this way after two weeks.

This suggests that people may be buying into the promise of smart speaker tech, but not really experiencing the promised benefits.

Where’s Siri?

Speculation Apple planned a home invasion with its own Siri-powered speaker system began in 2015.

Then, in September 2016 Bloomberg claimed a product had entered prototype testing.

More recently, Senior VP Worldwide Marketing, Philip Schiller seemed to deliver a quiet statement of expectation control, saying “Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”

Maybe Schiller is right. Perhaps we can gain all the benefits of voice assistants through the iPhone in our pocket and the Apple Watch on our wrist.

However with an estimated $5.5 billion (Juniper Research) spent on smart speaker solutions by 2020, a huge investment in Beats, Apple TV, Apple Music, HomeKit and Siri, it seems counter intuitive for Apple to leave so much potential revenue at Amazon’s table.

It also seems logical to think that the more available Apple’s services become, the more of them it will sell. And what makes more sense than Apple Music in every room? Perhaps Sonos can help?

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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