Smart speaker battle starts to get nasty

Amazon and Google are miles ahead in the battle for the living room, and the fight was always going to get sour at some point. Withdrawing YouTube from Echo Show was the first shot.

Because the competition is so intense and the rewards so great, something like this was always going to happen. The speaker, or more accurately, the virtual assistant, who control access to the customer in the living room also controls the flow of cash. Some people might question where the money is going to come from, but they said the same thing about Facebook. Where there is a captive audience, smart people will figure out how to monetize them.

To date there has been a passive aggressive game of one-upmanship with the pair releasing features to better the other, but this is the first sign of direct conflict. Google has now barred Amazon Echo Show access to YouTube according to Verge. Whether this is a genuine business decision or a petulant act of gamesmanship remains to be seen, but it could turn ugly.

For those who don’t know, the Echo Show is an Amazon speaker which also includes a large screen for displaying video content. Considering the users appetite for video content, and the efforts Amazon is making to promote Prime and its original content, it makes sense to have such a product. But not having access to the most popular video platform on the planet is a bit of a glaring omission.

“Google made a change today at around 3 pm. YouTube used to be available to our shared customers on Echo Show,” Amazon said in a statement. “As of this afternoon, Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision, which is disappointing and hurts both of our customers.”

The official complaint from Google is that Amazon was not displaying YouTube in the correct format. It is not the first time Google has gotten precious about the YouTube platform, it was involved in a battle with Microsoft in 2013 about ad blockers, but it doesn’t look like Amazon thinks this is down to a violation of the terms of service.

Google has released its own statement:

“We’ve been in negotiations with Amazon for a long time, working towards an agreement that provides great experiences for customers on both platforms. Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service, creating a broken user experience. We hope to be able to reach an agreement and resolve these issues soon.”

In short, if Amazon plays by our rules, it will be able to use YouTube on its devices. While this could be seen as an underhanded move by Google, it is one which is likely to work. And don’t expect Google to back down. It has a finely tuned machine which churns out billions each quarter; why would it change that now?

The main problem here is Amazon cannot fight fire with fire. Should it want to remove access to Amazon services on the Google Home devices, Google has its own alternatives which it would be happy to direct customers to. It is a bit of a tricky situation.

Amazon will surely have to bow to the Google demands before too long because, as mentioned before, it would be very strange to have a video orientated device which cannot access YouTube. It might even turn a few customers off from buying an Amazon device. And where would they go then? Perhaps Google. What a coincidence.

In truth, it would be weird to have an Amazon device without Google services on it, and a Google one without Amazon’s. A full on battle between the two would not benefit anyone. Perhaps, and hopefully, this will only be an isolated incident.

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