The smart speaker wars are raging as the market is getting more competitive with every passing month.
Amazon was the first to start the craze with its Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers but now its grip on the voice-enabled AI speakers market is slipping due to the rise of big shots such as Google and Apple with their own offerings. Besides, Chinese giants like Alibaba and Xiaomi are also getting a rapt response in the segment in the home market and they are most likely responsible for undercutting the sales of top players.
Amazon has doubled the shipment of its smart speakers in the last one year, to an impressive 4 million smart speakers in Q1 2018. Though the 102% YoY growth is a commendable performance by Amazon, it also indicates that the surging competition has cut its global smart speaker share nearly in half from the same period last year, according to a recent report from Strategy Analytics.
Meanwhile, Google is closing the gap with Amazon and managed to ship 2.4 million units of its Home smart speakers during the same period, putting it in the second position with a market share of 26.5%. Google has recorded a strong 709% YoY growth and the credit largely goes to the AI smarts of the Google Assistant. In the latest Google I/O show, CEO-Sundar Pichai depicted the jaw-dropping capabilities of the Assistant. When those updates are deployed in its smart speakers, it could pose a serious threat to every other player in the segment, especially the market leader Amazon.
Alibaba has leapfrogged Apple to acquire the third position on the list. Apple could manage to ship 600,000 units of its HomePod and stood at the fourth position, followed by Xiaomi that shipped 200,000 units of its Mi AI smart speakers.
Alibaba And Xiaomi Reign In China
Alibaba’s flagship smart speakers Tmall Genie X1 was launched in July last year and has sold 2 million units in China so far. Ali Genie, the brains behind Genie X1 and the first generation Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) system, runs on cloud and understands Mandarin as China is the only market where it is available. Alexa and Google Assistant enjoy an advantage here. Alexa can recognize French, German, Japanese, and 5 variations of English. Google Assistant, on the other hand, will be able to support 30 languages – including French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hindi, etc – by the end of this year.
Xiaomi’s Mi AI range of speakers have been making waves in China. It supports intelligent voice-controlled assistant and smart home integration and costs nearly half of Echo and Home. The latest Mi AI Speaker Mini provides access to over 35 million books and songs. Xiaomi’s home products are also getting Google Assistant integration which will allow users to control its smart speakers and smart home devices with the Assistant.
According to Strategy Analytics, the global smart speakers’ shipments reached 9.2 million in Q1 2018. The whopping 278% YoY growth compared to the same period last year indicates that the market is far more than just a flash in the pan.
“Amazon and Google accounted for a dominant 70% share of global smart speaker shipments in Q1 2018 although their combined share has fallen from 84% in Q4 2017 and 94% in the year ago quarter. This is partly as a result of strong growth in the Chinese market for smart speakers where both Amazon and Google are currently absent. Alibaba and Xiaomi are leading the way in China and their strength in the domestic market alone is proving enough to propel them into the global top five,” commented David Watkins, Director at Strategy Analytics.
The performance of an ideal smart speaker needs to go beyond audio enhancements and sound quality. The most vital role is played by the voice-enabled AI assistant. Apple is well-aware of this in the wake of the cold response of its HomePod due to the delusional reactions from its digital assistant Siri. Amazon is also prepping up the AI smarts of Alexa to retain its dominance. Google Assistant’s incredible capabilities are soon to be seen in near future. Alibaba’s Ali Genie has received a significant upgrade and it is being called Ali Genie 2.0. It will enable visual recognition capabilities allowing Tmall Genie to identify various objects. The ‘sight’ skill will enable recognizing different medicine bottles and be reading bedtime stories to children.