Google Assistant adds new media capabilities ahead of HomePod release

The Google Assistant has been updated to make entertainment content more accessible to voice control. The company announced today that users can set alarms to play a favorite song, playlist or radio station instead of a loud, unpleasant alarm sound.
Users invoke this by speaking, “Hey Google, set an alarm for 6 a.m. that plays [insert favorite musician].” This is optimized for Google Play Music but will work with other services as well (e.g., Pandora).
Google added that you can now ask for TV show schedules using the Google Assistant. You can also set reminders so you can catch shows at specific dates and times. The Google Assistant can control TV programming as well.
This isn’t entirely new; users can “cast” content to their TVs from the Assistant on Netflix, YouTube TV and a couple of other sources. If you’ve linked your Netflix account to Google Home, you can now say “Watch XYZ show . . . “ and the

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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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Study: 80% of Google Home results come from snippets

Digital agency ROAST has released a Voice Search Ranking Report (registration required), which seeks to categorize and understand how Google processes and responds to voice queries. It also tries to determine when Google Home uses featured snippets/Answer Box results and when it does not.
The company used keyword analytics to compile a list of “616 key phrases in the UK featuring snippet answer boxes.” It then determined the top phrases by query volume across a range of verticals (e.g., medical, retail, travel, finance). The tests were run in November and compared Google Home and traditional search results.
The study sought to answer the following questions:

How many of the key phrases were answered [on Google Home]?
Do the answers given match the answer boxes’ results?
Which key phrases prompt Google not to user answer boxes?
Can we compare visibility on voice search to answer boxes? Is there a difference?

In the majority of cases, the Google Home result mirrored the snippet/Answer Box, according to the

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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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New test prominently showcases Google Express in mobile search results

Image: Google
This week, we spotted a new treatment for Google Express in the search results. This included two new elements: a promotion for the program at the top of the results and a new look for Google Express ads in the Shopping carousel.
The “Get it with Google Express” promotion at the very top of the results, just below the navigation, touts the program’s easy checkout and free delivery. The Google Express Shopping ad features the program logo and displays the participating retailer name — in this case, Walmart — selling the product showcased in the ad.

These changes combine to make the Google Express program much more prominent on the page. Google typically displays these ads with “Google Express” in place of the retailer name and “Free shipping” in the promotion area of the ad. Here are examples of these ads in a Knowledge Panel and a regular Shopping carousel:
The test is quite limited. It’s running on mobile

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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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Google brings local lead generation to Google Assistant and Google Home

Google is bringing new forms of local search to the Google Assistant and Google Home. The company announced it’s working with local home service providers “like HomeAdvisor and Porch.”
On any platform where Google Assistant is available, users will be able to ask for contractors (e.g., “Ok Google find me a plumber”). That initiates a structured interaction which generates a lead or contact with a local service provider.
In the case of IAC-owned HomeAdvisor, which now also owns Angie’s List, users can ask to be connected by phone at the end of the process to a contractor or receive a list of relevant, pre-screened contractors. The following graphic depicts part of the user experience and the structured Q&A that’s used to refine the lead.
This is a highly structured local search and lead-generation experience that will bypass conventional search results (i.e., business listings). Google said the new functionality would be rolling out in the next week or so.

Google itself offers local lead generation for contractors

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