Although Amazon is widely viewed as the dominant vendor of “smart speakers,” Google has made great strides in the category, according to new data from Canalys.
Shipments of smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home grew 210 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2018. Canalys also estimated that Google shipped 3.2 million Google Home and Home Mini devices during that quarter, beating Amazon’s 2.5 million Echo devices.
“Google has several advantages over Amazon that have helped it move ahead,” Canalys analyst Ben Stanton wrote in a statement accompanying the data. “But its biggest advantage is in the channel. Operators and retailers tend to prioritize Google’s speakers over those from Amazon, as Amazon is in the tricky position of being a direct competitor.”
But Amazon, of course, didn’t become one of the world’s largest e-retailers by shirking from challenges: the company has poured resources into Alexa, the software undergirding its Echo devices, in hopes of becoming the dominant digital-assistant platform.
In addition, Amazon has attempted to grow the ecosystem around Alexa by opening up in-skill purchasing, which allows companies and developers to charge for “premium digital content” such as interactive stories, games, and so on; these purchases can include both one-time buys and subscriptions. “We also provide self-service tools to manage your in-skill products and optimize their sales performance over time,” Amazon boasted in a blog posting about the initiative.
The open question is whether Google and Apple (which offers the HomePod smart speaker, powered by Siri) will follow Amazon down the rabbit hole of in-skill purchasing; if they do, developers could rush to build more skills and abilities for these platforms, just as they did with apps and smartphones.
In that context, aggressive competition between Google and Amazon, with companies like Xiaomi and Apple scrambling to catch up, is actually good for the tech industry as a whole; it means more opportunities and channels for building and releasing voice-activated products. But it’s still relatively early days in this market, and things could shift quickly.