Apple says HomePod is finally coming on February 9, but can it compete?

Having missed the holiday shopping cycle, Apple is finally releasing its HomePod smart speaker on February 9. It will initially be available in the US, the UK and Australia and later “this spring” in France and Germany.
With its higher price ($349) and late entrance, Apple is definitely an underdog versus Amazon and Google. There’s evidence that more than 40 million smart speaker units are already in US homes, the majority of which are Amazon Alexa devices. However, there are roughly 125 million households in the US, so the market is far from saturated, and there’s some indication of demand for HomePod.
Many of the devices sold, however, have been at the low end of the market (Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot). Apple has no such lower-end offering and has positioned its HomePod as a premium speaker, competing with Sonos (which has a version with Alexa). The company is also using HomePod to promote Apple Music.
Unlike Google Home

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Survey: Smart speaker ownership steals time from smartphones, TV, radio

In a follow-up to mid-2017 research on US smart speaker ownership, NPR and Edison Research have released new findings indicating that nearly 40 million Americans now own the devices. That number is roughly double what it was in July 2017 and shows the impact of 2017 holiday sales on the market.
The new survey was conducted in two parts, online and by telephone, in November and then in late December. It reflects that satisfaction with these devices is high, and people are using them more frequently and gradually expanding the use cases. Another striking finding is that smart speaker ownership is impacting (read: decreasing) usage of other media and devices.

As one might expect, smart speakers tend to be placed in the living room and then the kitchen. Other research found that smart speaker ownership triggered smart home appliance and fixture purchases. In the NPR survey, a significant percentage (31 percent) of owners reported that they had “controlled household devices with

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Smart speaker sales grew 103% last year

The latest in a growing number of studies on voice search and virtual assistants, Adobe Digital Insights (ADI), found that sales of “voice assistants” (let’s assume that’s smart speakers) grew roughly 103 percent in Q4 vs. a year ago. Most of these sales (79 percent) took place in the fourth quarter (lots of gifts).
Data from ADI and other third-party analyst firms justify the assertion that smart speakers became the fastest-selling consumer technology last year, dramatically outpacing wearables and VR.
ADI’s analysis is based on retail sales data and a survey of more than 1,000 US consumers. According to the study, more than 50 percent of consumers who own smart speakers use them at least daily, with 22 percent saying they also shop using voice commands.
Source: Adobe Digital Insights (2018)
Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents, according to ADI, now consider voice recognition capabilities to be “good.” With only 4 percent saying they’re “poor.” In addition, only a minority of

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Google says Assistant now on more than 400 million devices

Google said in a blog post this morning, “The [Google] Assistant is now available on more than 400 million devices.” When Google says “devices” it’s including Android smartphones, tablets, TVs, headphones . . . and Google Home smart speakers.
What we don’t get from the post is how many Google Home, Mini and Max speakers were sold in 2017. Four hundred million is a massive number but it’s going to be mostly Android smartphones. If Google were really psyched about the Home figures it would have called them out specifically.
We can make a crude estimate of how many Google Home devices there are in US households. Based on a review of data from NPR, Strategy Analytics and Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, it appears that Google Home has roughly a 25 percent share of the US smart speaker market. Specifically, Strategy Analytics estimated that Google’s share of Q4 smart speaker sales was 24 percent.
Walker Sands (“Future of Retail 2017“),

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Report: Amazon in discussions with consumer brands about ads on Alexa

According to a report on CNBC, Amazon is in talks with several large consumer product companies, such as Procter & Gamble, about advertising and sponsorship opportunities through Alexa and voice search.
According to the report:
The e-tailer has been in talks with several companies about letting them promote products on the best-selling Echo devices, which are powered by the Alexa voice assistant, according to several people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Consumer companies, including Procter & Gamble and Clorox, have been involved in these talks, according to the people. Some of the early discussions have centered on whether companies would pay for higher placement if a user searches for a product such as shampoo on the device, similar to how paid searches work in Google.
The report also says that there may be a range of promotional opportunities on Alexa. One is reportedly a product suggestion on behalf of a brand

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Google bringing the Assistant to tablets and Lollipop Android phones

Google is rolling out the Assistant to more devices. It will soon be available on Android tablets running Nougat and Marshmallow, and smartphones running Lollipop.
Tablets in the US running English will be the first to get access. However, a wide array of Android 5.0 smartphones (Lollipop) will get the Assistant: Those operating in English in major markets and in Spanish in the US, Mexico and Spain; and Lollipop smartphones in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.
Google is pushing the Assistant out to more devices as the market becomes more competitive and AI development accelerates.
A July 2017 report from Verto Analytics found that 42 percent of US smartphone owners used virtual assistants, in the aggregate, on average 10 times per month. That translated into more than 70 million smartphone owners and almost 1 billion hours per month in the US. The numbers are likely somewhat higher now.
Personal Assistant Usage Numbers & Demographics

Source: Verto Analytics (5/17)
Siri was the most

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Coming to terms with fake reviews

Consumers overwhelmingly expect the reviews they peruse on Amazon, Yelp, Google and other review sites to be trustworthy, neutral and objective. But this reasonable expectation is frequently thwarted by the efforts of aggressive marketers who pay third parties to create phony reviews in exchange for compensation or incentivize existing good customers to leave reviews with discounts or free products or services.
These deceptive practices — termed “opinion spam” or “sock puppetry” — are a form of information pollution with multiple victims. Opinion spam blinds the consumer to the truth and poisons the reputation of the review site where the fake review appears. When detected, it may subject the marketer and/or opinion spammer to criminal and civil penalties.
Unfortunately, opinion spam — despite the best efforts of review sites to control it — appears to be a permanent, intractable feature of the e-commerce and local business information ecosystem.
Not that reviews sites aren’t trying. In 2015, Amazon filed a lawsuit against

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Report: Smart speaker owners increasingly using them instead of typing or swiping

Unlike VR headsets or wearables, smart speakers are rapidly emerging as a mass market technology platform. The latest to document relatively high satisfaction and usage of these devices is call-tracking and analytics company Invoca.
Earlier this year, Invoca surveyed 1,000 people in the US who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home device. The survey asked questions about current behavior and a range of hypothetical scenarios.
The company found that people use smart speakers more frequently over time, with 89 percent using them daily. Here’s a more detailed usage breakdown:

33 percent of owners said they used the devices more than five times daily.
28 percent used them four to five times a day.
24 percent used them two to three times a day.

In addition, 58 percent of respondents said that they used assistants to “accomplish tasks they used to do through typing or swiping.” So there’s some substitution going on, and there’s apparently an appetite for more.
By some estimates, Amazon controls

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Amazon Q3 ad revenues surpass $1 billion, up roughly 2X from early 2016

Yesterday Amazon announced third-quarter earnings. The company reported sales growth of 34 percent to $43.7 billion. A year ago Amazon reported $32.7 billion in sales.
For purposes of this post, the notworthy part is Amazon’s “other” revenue, which is basically advertising. Buried at the bottom of the Net Sales chart in the press release was this line item:

Other is defined by Amazon to include “sales not otherwise included above, such as certain advertising services and our co-branded credit card agreements.” It’s a safe bet then that ad sales for the quarter were $1+ billion, which represented 58 percent year over year growth. Since Q2 of 2016 ad sales have basically doubled.
On the earnings call, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said “Advertising revenue continues to grow very quickly and its year-over-year growth rate is actually faster than the other revenue line item that you see there [in the ‘other’ category].”
The fact that Amazon is now on par with or surpasses Google in product

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Google Assistant now offering a wide range of games for kids and families

The battle of the smart speakers and home assistants is in full swing. And both Amazon and Google think that gaming and fun will help provide a competitive edge.
Amazon introduced Echo Buttons, which enable families to play Alexa-based games together, in September. Today Google announced a trove of games for families and kids: “[T]he Google Assistant now has more than 50 new games, activities and stories designed for families with kids.” They include trivia, musical chairs, storytelling and more.
Games for Google Assistant are available on Home devices, smartphones and other devices where the Assistant is available. This is also where Google seeks to compete, as a platform across more devices (“ambient computing”) than Amazon can offer.
Google has also made it possible to personalize the Assistant for kids under 13. Home devices can recognize up to six different voices. Accordingly, kids can use the same devices as their parents, but the Assistant will recognize the child’s voice and offer

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