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Amazon loosens tight grip on smart speaker market

Successful leader

New estimates from Strategy Analytics have Amazon maintaining its lead in the smart speaker market, but it’s starting to erode as more mainstream brands hit the market.

Being first to market has its advantages, but these leads are rarely maintained. Getting a jump on the early adopters of course offers a massive advantage, but more often than not the money is made in mainstream market penetration. Unfortunately for those who attempt to use the first-to-market strategy as a means to break the status quo, Joe and Jane Bloggs on the street usually revert to brands they are comfortable with.

“Amazon and Google accounted for a 69% share of global smart speaker shipments in Q2 2018 down from over 90% in Q2 2017,” said David Watkins of Strategy Analytics. “The drop is not only a reflection of growing competition in the smart speaker market but also Amazon and Google’s inability to break into the fast growing Chinese market that is dominated by local powerhouse brands such as Alibaba, JD.com and Baidu.”

Looking at the estimates, Strategy Analytics believes Amazon’s global smart speaker share of shipments fell to 41% in Q2 2018 from 44% in Q1 and 76% in Q2 2017. Google has increased its share to 28% in Q2 2018, up from 16% during the same period last year, while technology giants Apple and Samsung are intensifying competition, as are more traditional audio brands such as Sonos and Bose.

Amazon and Google are still the dominant players as it stands, though companies like Apple and Samsung, both of whom made their names in the hardware space, will test out brand loyalty with their own products. That said, consumers in the mainstream market, the majority who have more basic understanding of the technology industry, will like lean towards brands such as Sonos and Bose. These are common names in the audio market already and brands people have been buying for years; reputation and credibility means a lot for consumer purchases.

With the two market disruptors starting to flag out front, we suspect market share will gradually become more even, with Amazon and Google eventually falling back further. But do they actually care?

We’ve said this before, but these are two companies which do not have an outstanding pedigree in the hardware markets. It has not been a cash-cow for the pair, who have both focused on software and services. We believe this will be the long-term focus of both Amazon and Google.

Launching low-cost devices onto the market and capturing the attention of the highly-vocal tech enthusiasts was an excellent move. It normalised the products and demonstrated to the traditional manufacturers there is money to be made in smart speakers. Now the rest of the industry are playing catch-up, some might suggest it is mission accomplished. The pair can go back to focusing on the aspects which they are more comfortable with.

Both Amazon and Google make cash through the desires of consumers to have more of their lives online. They operate in the virtual world, making money off the ecosystem and creating free services which are attractive to the consumer. In Google’s cash it is the search engine, as well as video platforms and mapping products. For Amazon, it’s the dominant eCommerce platform, and more recently it has been venturing into subscriptions. For both the idea is simple; create an idea which is user friendly, before making money off the connection between consumers and third-parties.

The same business model is possible in the smart speaker world. Whether it is referrals for a takeaway or ordering weekly groceries, Amazon and Google can make money off the digital experience, not simply selling devices to consumers.

The issue to start with that the devices weren’t present in homes around the world, but that hurdle seems to have been conquered. With the products gathering momentum, the mission of normalising day-to-day uses of the virtual assistants can begin. This is where Amazon and Google will make billions in recurring revenues.

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