Max Willens of Digiday made a solid addition to the voice assistant discussion track with last week’s article about how publishers are considering support for the two leading platforms. His thesis? “Publishers now have to develop on two voice platforms.” The two platforms are Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Voicebot’s analysis of CIRP and other market data suggest that around seven million Amazon Echo devices have been sold. Statista data show that another 23 million Kindle Fire tablets which are also Alexa compatible are in circulation.
Google Assistant Accessible By Over 10 Million in 2017
Digiday cites Morgan Stanley data forecasting about three million Google Pixel phones to be sold in 2016 and another three million in 2017 giving Google Assistant a solid six million audience on that one phone model. Plus, users of Google’s Allo app also have access to Assistant. Android Police reported in September that the app had been downloaded over five million times from the Google Play store. Then we have Google Home. That could easily add another million or more users by year end. Other devices are sure to follow.
What is important here is that Google didn’t really have an offering to compete with Alexa four months ago. Now, it is in the home, on the phone and spreading to other devices. It doesn’t have as many apps (Actions in Google parlance and skills in Alexa-world), but given the large Android developer ecosystem we can assume that the gap will close quickly. iPhone adoption was accelerated by the rapid growth in apps because they added utility for users. Android had to catch up in the app race before it became a credible alternative.
Could Apple Establish Presence as Quickly
Amazon had a two-year head start and proved to everyone that there was consumer demand. During that time they sold a lot of devices, built a nascent developer ecosystem and enlisted numerous third parties to embed Alexa in their own products. Amazon needed that time because it didn’t have the advantage of a mobile phone installed base. Product quality, market timing and smart business development decisions have given Amazon a seat at the table, and for the time being a leadership position.
However, competition for consumers is likely to become more fragmented before it consolidates. Apple almost certainly will introduce a competitive offering in 2017 based on Siri and the company’s burgeoning AI development. Could it reach 10 million users in under a year similar to the track that Google Assistant is following? Apple has done it before. Apple Music became the number two subscription music streaming service and passed 10 million users in just six months. The company may not be what it once was, but it still knows how to leverage a large and loyal user base.
A Two-Horse Race Today
For now, the voice assistant market is a two-horse race. Alexa created the market and currently leads the pack. Assistant is gaining fast. Google has a history of failing at me-too products, but that doesn’t seem likely this time. Given the audience reach of both platforms, publishers, brands and other organizations are bound to develop for both in the near-term. It will get really interesting when there is a third and fourth (i.e. Facebook) platform to consider as well. But will it be too late to capture the attention of content publishers? It’s better to be out front at this point.