Voices of the near future

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash
Alexa, who is going to win the voice wars?

By the looks of launches at CES, it seems Google and Amazon are winning the voice wars by partnering with other hardware makers and implementing their voice assistants in a lot of different products.

Alexa in Sonos and Toyota.

Google Assistant in Bose and B&O speakers and headphones.

Siri, in comparison, seems way behind. Apple is pushing hardware. Their own hardware. Siri only works on phones and watches and tablets and computers. Maybe cars. And the upcoming Homepod. But they’re behind on simple, small cheap, omnipresent devices like Echo Dot and Google Home Mini.

Siri is behind in hardware integration partnership, meaning less distribution. Siri is also behind in AI, since the platform is less open than Alexas multitude of skills and Google Homes similar platform, and the natural language processing is simply not as good on Siri as on competing platforms. Maybe due to the fierce competition for AI programming talent.

Apple is — naturally — betting on iOS/macOS as the omnipresent enduser platform. But if the trend points to omnipresent dots or a mesh of voice assistants, they might fall behind.

This might not be a problem for Apple in a broad perspective (Apple can still sell millions of shiny, excellent screens that do magic stuff), but it does mean that Siri could fall way behind the competition.

OK, Google, who is going to fall way behind?

More interesting is the perspective for Facebook. They rely to an extreme degree on eyeballs and people’s addiction to sliding a thumb across a screen to sell endless amounts of ads on an endless feed.

Google sells ads on searches. Voice is still search, and voice ads or sponsored voice results should almost be a given for Assistant.

Amazon sells stuff. Sometimes people will use their voices to search for — and even buy — this stuff from Amazon.

Facebook sells ads on personalised feeds (Facebook, Instagram and Messenger). If there isn’t a feed — voice is query based — what’s the role for Facebook? Isn’t a voice-first version of Messenger just called a voicemail? Or a phonecall? Voice-first newsfeed is just commercial talk radio. Or, you know, podcasts. M, the intelligent chatbot assistant from Facebook, is shutting down. So what does Facebook have in store?

I simply can’t see a fit for Facebook or any of their subsidiaries in a voice-first internet. They’re probably working on something, just like their big bet on VR. But I can’t figure out what, nor can I wrap my head around a near future scenario where Facebook’s revenue model isn’t threatened.

Amazon and Google will battle it out and sell their own stuff or sell referrals to other companies’ stuff. Apple will still sell shiny, magic screens.

But Facebook might get left behind. And maybe that’s okay. But it will sure upend the way we think about the tech industry if The Four will be reduced to Three.

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