Your next present will be a smart speaker

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March 2018, article published originally in Capital magazine

Your next present will be a smart speaker

Every year begins “the same.” We make forecasts, we talk about “the best of…” Lists are published about what was a hit last year and what will be a hit next year. And every year also begins with great technological events, such as Las Vegas’s CES and Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress.

I’m not a fortune teller (wouldn’t that be nice, and be able to predict the lottery), but I can see that there is a really powerful trend. I don’t pretend to know the future, but I do know what is growing and all around us: smart speakers.

Some time ago, we were promised beacons: “radars” that would be in stores and offices, and with which our cell phones would interact. But for now it would appear that they are somewhat of a failure, for, at least as far as I know, there isn’t much of this technology deployed as yet. For a couple years now at the great technological events, there has been talk about virtual reality as well, but these advances haven’t arrived as quickly as foreseen. It must be that the market isn’t ready (to top things off, we are to blame!).

On the other hand, last Christmas there was a star gift in American homes: smart speakers. These devices, which started to be advertised a couple of years ago, are more and more prevalent. And what is more significant is that “the big guys” are betting on them seriously:

  • Amazon launched its “Echo” at the end of 2014, and is continuously improving it. As the first large company to bet on this type of device, it was able to obtain more than 70% of the market share. A good example of the saying, he who strikes first, strikes the hardest.
  • Google launched its smart speaker “Home” at the end of 2016 and, little by little, has managed to snatch a bit of the market from Amazon.
  • Apple launched its bet “Homepod” at the beginning of 2018 (if only in three English-speaking markets). It’s still early to see results, but the fact that they have been working with Siri for years might help them.

These smart speakers are intended to act as your cell phone, but without the cell phone. And without the screen. What does this mean? The two great rivals in mobile operational systems (Apple and Google) have been trying to make us “talk” to our cell phones for years: to give them instructions (to find information, call people, add reminders to our calendar, etc.) These smart speakers use systems similar to Siri or Google Now, but from a fixed device they want us to place in the middle of our homes.
Are they succeeding? According to a study published in January 2018, they have managed to convince one out of six adults: around 39 million Americans. Last Christmas’s star gift!

With smart speakers the paradigm shifts again: now it’s about talking to a machine as if it were a person. Are brands ready?

According to another study, in 2020, 55% of homes in the US will have a similar device. This would mean a much faster adoption curve than with other devices: it took the smartphone seven years to reach 50% of homes since its release, TV over ten years, and other devices, such as the radio, the computer or the Internet, needed over two decades to find a place among the majority of the population.

The most interesting thing about these devices is that they can once again change our relationship with brands. TV added a visual layer to the advertising brands had done on the radio until then. Computers and the internet boosted interactivity. And with cell phones, we managed to carry it all with us (including our relationship with brands). With smart speakers the paradigm shifts again: now it’s about talking to a machine as if it were a person. Are brands ready? Are browsers prepared to offer us information as if we were having a conversation, and not visually?

Again, it’s not about predicting the future with a crystal ball, but if there are lots of people talking with smart speakers at the MWC or the CES, I’d venture to say these will reach more and more homes. Be prepared, voice is the next thing (not a music software, but our lives viewed from a speaker that, besides talking, listens to us all day).