Home assistants are here to stay

I don’t normally like to predict things, but here’s one: Home assistants are here to stay.

Home assistants (connected speakers and screens used at home) will become mainstream and will join the list of basic appliances for the home.

It will be partly contributed by rapid decline in prices and bundles with mobile operators, cable /ISP providers etc. The manufacturers will just want you to have one. The use case will start as basic: they will power shopping for the home, digital media plays (images, videos, music, podcasts) and perhaps be the hub for managing all other connected appliances.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Alibaba already have a play in the space. Who’s next?

I predict that Facebook will come out with a home assistant in the next year, based on Mark’s pet project “Jarvis” (learn more about it here). The product will either be Facebook made hardware (maybe by someone from the Oculus team?) or a powerful digital app for Google Home, Apple’s Homepod and Amazon Echo/ Alexa. Microsoft will eventually launch one too, who knows, Maybe Twitter will have its own flavour with breaking news alerts and real-time updates: highlights from your sports games, live streaming and TV reminders. Of course, soon enough we’ll find the cheap Chinese version at Walmart.

Will Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project become the next big market for Facebook?

What’s in it for them? premium subscriptions and engagement. The first thing you’re asked when installing Google Home is to connect to a music service. There are currently only two options — Google Music (one month free, £9.99 thereafter) or Spotify (you must have a paid subscription to use it on Google Home). They are adding Soundcloud and Deezer soon, as announced on Google I/O in May. There’s no option to connect to YouTube, because it’s free. Same goes for the Echo — unless you’re a Prime subscriber, you’ll get limited usability with the Echo, but paying £79.99 unlocks TV, Music and other content.

Google home is positioned as “it’s your own Google, always there to help”. Google invested a lot in voice recognition is connecting the speaker to a long list of compatible partners.
“A breakthrough speaker all round”
“Voice control your world”

Amazon, the pioneer in the space, recently introduced Amazon Echo Show and added a screen to the speaker, as well as new capabilities like Alexa calling (Google just announced hands-free calling from Google Home at Google IO in May). Google is likely to follow with its own screen product shortly, but for now it’s focusing on connecting Google Home to the TV and showing content on the TV using voice commands. Google is already trying to catch up with the Echo’s 10,000 skills. Apple just joined the market with the HomePod, and is trying to differentiate on the quality of the speaker and the beauty of the design. You can see the differences in this helpful chart by Business Insider:

So where is this all going? AI powered assistant, always on, connected to devices… sounds familiar? The connected speakers of today, will be the control hub for the smart home of the future, replacing our use of phones at home and perhaps being the predecessors of home robots. Think about it, if the Robot can fulfil our every request, stream in HD, chat with your pets, clean and run errands around the house, we’re pretty close to that already. In fact, an early version is already here: take a look at Kuri, by Mayfield Robotics.

Update: Alibaba just announced its own Alexa competitor which only speaks Chinese http://themarketmogul.com/alibaba-to-launch-alexa-rival-in-china/

Update 2: Samsung is said to be making a smart speaker powered by its digital assistant Bixby https://www.wsj.com/articles/samsung-is-developing-a-voice-activated-speaker-1499153890?mod=e2tw

Update 3: Microsoft is also coming out with Cortana powered smart speakers for home and the car (The Invoke speaker, in partnership with tier one supplier Harman). https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/10/15610802/microsoft-cortana-build-2017-cars-speakers-harman-kardon-invoke

Update 4 (July 24th): My prediction comes true! Facebook is rumoured to be working on a smart speaker with a 15 inch touch screen, according to Digitimes. Instead of voice recognition functionality, the company will focus more on image display. More on Techcrunch.

Update 5 (July 25th): Xiaomi announces a $45 smart speaker; the six-microphone Mi AI Speaker features a digital assistant and lets users control IoT devices from Xiaomi and select third-parties; available in China from August; unclear if or when it will launch it other markets. Source: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/26/xiaomi-mi-ai-speaker/

Update 6 (August 1st): Facebook acquired Ozlo, a self described index of knowledge about the real world. Users can ask Ozlo’s bot questions and its AI-powered assistant can quickly answer thanks to “a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities”. This technology will no doubt be instrumental to power the new Facebook Home Assistant. You’ve read it here first folks! Ozlo will be joining the Messenger team. More on Business Insider.

Where is all going?

Home assistants are smart speakers that are voice activated. The next clear use case is the car, and I’ve been told that assistants are coming to the workplace by someone familiar with the space.

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