Although there have been many breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years—and I mean MANY—one stands above the rest for us, the consumers: smart speakers. Whether it’s Amazon’s line of Echo devices or Google’s Home offerings, we’ve long since adopted these wonderful gadgets into our daily lives. In fact, Google reported in 2017 that 72% of people who own a voice-activated speakers have incorporated it into their daily routine. That was 2017; imagine today, a couple of years and a whole bunch of updates and developments later.
It’s 2019 and we’re even more in love with AI-powered smart speakers than we were in 2017, 2018, or any other year that doesn’t include the future. After all, when coupled with intelligent digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant who can carry out our commands, search the web and control other smart devices around the home (and even the world as long as there’s a WiFi connection!), it’s no surprise that the industry is expanding at breakneck speed. How fast, you ask? So fast that its market revenue is projected to jump from $4.4 billion in 2017 to over $17 billion in 2022—that fast.
As for the crowd favorites, you may have guessed that the two most popular brands in the smart speaker market are Amazon’s Echo/Alexa and Google’s Home/Google Assistant pairing, followed by smaller brands like Xiaomi and Apple. More specifically, even though Amazon had 35.5% of the smart speaker market share worldwide in the tail-end of 2018, their market dominance has been steadily declining as more competitors enter the market.
As a matter of fact, that right there is what we will be covering today… sort of. As we gear up for a brand new year with equally new advancements in the smart speaker game, our discussion for today revolves around the biggest audio trends of 2018 and how they’re leading up to the ones we’ll see this year. To be more exact, we’re first going to cover what Amazon had in store for us, and then round it out with Google.
Let’s get started!
Starting with Amazon, let’s begin by touching on all of their Echo variants. Keep in mind that these are Amazon’s speakers, as they have other products like the Echo Input and Link that are Alexa input device with no onboard speakers. With that in mind, here’s what Amazon has to offer:
● Amazon Echo: Amazon’s flagship smart speaker
● Amazon Echo Dot: A hockey puck-sized version of the Echo
● Amazon Echo Tap: A smaller portable version of the Echo
● Amazon Echo Look: A camera and smart speaker that can take full-length photos and 360-degree videos with built-in AI for fashion advice
●Amazon Echo Show: A smart speaker with touchscreen display that can be used to display visual information to accompany its responses
● Amazon Echo Spot: A hemispherical device that has the same functions as an Echo Show, but smaller
● Amazon Echo Plus: A speaker with design similarities with the first-generation Echo, but also doubles as a smart home hub
● Amazon Echo Auto: An Echo device designed for cars
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s begin our coverage of what Amazon was up to in 2018 (even if it only touched on the topic of speakers a tiny bit):
● Amazon’s Echo Look was made available to everyone in the US in June 2018. The device, which analyzes your fashion choices and makes recommendations through AI and machine learning, had previously only been available through invites.
● Amazon unveiled a second generation of the Echo Show at an Alexa-themed product event on September 2018, and was formally released the following month. The device featured a complete redesign, with a mesh casing that replaces the black plastic one, speakers on the side and back to allow a larger display, and smart home integration, similar to the Echo Plus.
● The Echo Sub is a subwoofer released in October 2018 that not only connects to your speakers, but also responds to voice commands like, "Alexa, turn up the bass."
●The Amazon Echo Input, a new device designed to connect to whatever speakers you want—basically an Echo Dot without a speaker—was released toward the end of 2018.
● A brand new Echo Dot with an improved finish, larger speakers and 70% louder sound was released in the second half of 2018.
●Released toward the end of October 2018, a second generation of the Echo Plus now includes a built-in temperature sensor and smart home hub.
● Skype calling was made available to just about every Echo device in November 2018, an ability that was previously restricted to the Echo Show and Spot.
●Amazon also announced the Echo Auto, a dash-mounted device that uses your phone's mobile connection to access Alexa capabilities. Offered by invite-only in December 2018, the Echo Auto is expected to be released later this year to the general public.
● BONUS - Echo Wall Clock: Yes, this is a clock, but it’s a clock announced in late 2018 that can connect to your Echo devices and be controlled with the sound of your voice!
●BONUS - AmazonBasics Microwave: Announced with the Echo Wall Clock, the AmazonBasics Microwave is a microwave with an Alexa button that connects to the nearest Echo device so you can cook through voice commands.
Audio Industry Trends 2018: Google
With a solid idea of what Amazon graced us with last year, it’s time to move onto Google and Google Home, their line of smart speakers that includes the following variants:
● Google Home: Google’s original smart speaker that was released to compete with the Echo
● Google Home Mini: A smaller version of the Google Home with the same overall functionality
● Google Home Max: A larger version of the Google Home with with stereo speakers and Smart Sound, an adaptive audio system that uses machine learning to automatically adjust sound output based on factors like the environment
● Google Home Hub: Like the Echo Show, this is a smart speaker with touchscreen display that can provide visual feedback for queries
Just like we did for Amazon, now that we know Google’s offerings we’re going to move on to what that meant in 2018:
● Both Google Home and Google Home Mini made their official debut in Italy in March 2018, allowing our Italian friends to control their speakers with the sound of their voice.
● After Italy came India. Following Amazon in their quest to become the world’s go-to smart speaker brand, Google released Google Home and Google Home Mini in India in April 2018.
●Looking out for their user’s experience, Google announced in March 2018 that they would be able to pair any of their Google Home devices to their own Bluetooth speakers without requiring the use of a Chromecast streamer, allowing them to control their entertainment experience with their voice.
● Google released the first Smart Displays with the oogle Assistant in July 2018. While not a Google product in and of itself, they did authorize third-party manufacturers like Lenovo, JBL and LG to create smart speakers with Smart Displays housed in them.
● Officially released in October 2018, Google Home Hub is the newest member of the Google Home family, and this one comes with a screen.
● Hoping to “make storytime more magical,” Google partnered with Disney in November 2018 to release a select collection of Little Golden Books that, when read aloud, would play relevant sound effects and music to bring the story to life.
Even though we focused on Amazon and Google, the two giants in the smart speaker game, a lot more happened that did not involve them. For example, Apple made their debut in the smart speaker market in February 2018, with the release of HomePod, a speaker with Siri integration that allows for hands-free, voice control. Additionally, Sonos announced that Sonos One, their own smart speaker, would include Alexa onboard for voice control capabilities in 2017, and made it happen in 2018. Likewise, although they had originally planned to also include Google Assistant in 2018, this project was slated for an early 2019 release. One more before we wrap up: Facebook announced in October 2018 that they too were going to enter the smart speaker market—or rather, the smart device market—with Portal and Portal+, two new video communication devices for the home that will “dramatically change the way we keep in touch.” The best part? It offers hands-free control with Alexa.