The state of the smart speaker market in 2020

Amazon Echo smart speaker
Image credit: Depositphotos

Smart speakers are firmly a part of everyday life. Research from eMarketer showed that 74.2 million people in the U.S. used smart speakers as of 2019, and the number exceeded 85 million in China.

Additionally, Business Insider’s “The Smart Speaker Report” indicated the smart speaker may be growing faster than many other tech gadgets, including the smartphone, per five years of data.

Smart speakers are not mere fun fads. They’ve fundamentally changed how people address everyday needs and will likely do so for the foreseeable future. These six points spotlight crucial trends in the smart speaker market for 2020.

1. Companies are teaming up to make a new connectivity standard for smart home products

One thing that complicates matters for the smart home market is that people may start by purchasing Amazon Alexa speakers and then buy more products from different brands. Those brands don’t always play nicely with each other. However, an initiative called Project Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) aims to change that. Apple, Amazon, and Google are working together to make progress in the effort.

Participants intend to develop a royalty-free connectivity standard for smart home products. That could mean that an AI smart speaker would work smoothly with a more extensive array of products while providing owners with a hassle-free setup process. Thus, if a person is still on the fence about buying a smart speaker due to compatibility fears, this new standard could ease their uncertainty.

2. Amazon Echo dominates the smart speaker market

Although many people probably know someone who owns a Google smart speaker, recent research from eMarketer indicates they’re far more likely to encounter people who have Amazon Alexa speakers. eMarketer’s data showed that 69.7 percent of people would use an Amazon Echo smart speaker this year. About 31.7 percent use Google smart speakers, and 18.4 percent choose other options, such as Apple’s HomePod.

The percentages listed add up to more than 100 percent because some people own more than one kind of smart speaker. However, it appears that if brands besides Amazon want to have a stronger showing in the market, they’ll need to implement some serious differentiation strategies. Also, it’s anyone’s guess how much those might work, especially since Amazon was arguably the first brand to familiarize people with smart speakers.

3. More brands are coming out with smart speaker apps

Using Voice Assistant And Smart Speakers

Another trend to keep an eye on in the smart speaker market relates to how an increasing number of brands and organizations are releasing smart speaker apps—also called “skills”—to cater to their target audiences. For example, people who play the state lottery in Virginia can get relevant information using their voices and an AI speaker from Amazon. They can learn about winning numbers, jackpot sizes and more.

In a recent example, the Spanish soccer club Real Madrid launched an Alexa skill that gives people the latest news about the team. It also reportedly lets people watch videos of the footballers if their Amazon smart speaker has a display.

People should expect to see more examples of such smart speaker skills throughout the rest of the year. These applications give brands more opportunities to connect with their target audiences in a way that is straightforward and based on technology people already know and love.

4. Wireless smart speakers may soon become more widely available

Most smart speakers plug into the wall. That arrangement works well if a person intends to mainly use it in places that have outlets readily available, such as around the house. However, it’s not as convenient if someone wants to bring a smart speaker on a road trip or take it out in the yard to stay entertained while gardening.

If a person buys an Amazon, Apple or Google smart speaker in the United States, those gadgets still need outlets to work. However, that may not be the case for much longer. Amazon recently unveiled a smart speaker for the Indian market called the Echo Input Portable. The gadget’s most notable characteristic is a built-in rechargeable battery. The Echo Input Portable also doubles as a Bluetooth speaker.

Amazon has not given information about whether the model may eventually arrive in other countries. A lot likely depends on the adoption rate in India, however.

5. People prefer smartphone voice assistants to smart speakers

Although smart speaker use is widespread, recent research from Forrester showed that people prefer to use the voice assistants on their smartphones instead of interacting with standalone speakers. Also, Forrester found that 65 percent of users use smart speakers for a nearly effortless task—checking the weather. In contrast, only 5 percent rely on smart speakers to shop.

Forrester’s analysts believe convincing users to do more complex tasks with their smart speakers could be challenging. If people mainly use voice-enabled assistants to get basic questions answered, it may be difficult to convince them they need smart speakers that take care of more advanced needs.

If people think of a smart speaker as a luxury item that can’t do anything more than the smartphone they already have and use every day, they’ll likely decide that the gadget is not worth their investment. It’s possible, too, that they may not know certain smart speaker skills exist. That’s not a likely scenario for the tech-savvy, but if people are just casual users of technology or even a bit technophobic, they might not try smart speaker skills.

6. Privacy concerns may come to the forefront

privacy encrypted data

Horror stories about smart speakers misbehaving occasionally pop up in the headlines. The situations that cause them to act strangely often arise because of the always-on functionality. Smart speakers “listen” for the phrases that wake them up, then respond according to a user’s commands. Wake word mishaps sometimes cause a speaker to say things without warning or carry out other actions without a user’s knowledge.

However, a startling study found that smart speakers may activate up to 19 times per day despite a person not uttering the wake word. The research team also found that more than half of unintended activation periods lasted for at least six seconds. Additionally, some of the activated periods across certain models of smart speakers studied persisted for 46 seconds.

The researchers, who used TV show dialogue as source material, said only 8.44 percent of the activations occurred consistently, happening in at least 75 percent of the tests performed. They suggest there is randomness concerning whether a smart speaker wakes up or not. It’s also possible that the gadgets learn from their mistakes, making them less likely to respond to the snippets of words on TV.

In any case, if everyday consumers get the impression that smart speakers will invade their privacy, some may be less likely to purchase them. Data protection has become a hot topic, and no one wants a device that listens to them unexpectedly, no matter how high-tech it is or what it can do for them.

An exciting year in the smart speaker sector

These are not the only trends for people to watch for this year, but they’re some of the most notable ones. All of them could impact the pace and frequency at which people buy smart speakers.

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