Google & Amazon – Battle for the home pt. VI

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Opportunities to break in are fast disappearing

  • Google seems to be closing on in launching a Google Home based product with a touchscreen which indicates that Google’s understanding of the smart home user experience is improving quickly.
  • This is bad news for others like Essential (see here) that are looking to compete in this space as both Google and Amazon are starting to make progress on addressing the areas where they have been weak in the smart home.
  • If Google can now improve its position with the developers of smart home products, it will be in a good position to really take the fight to Amazon which still dominates with over 70% share.
  • Earlier this year I identified two major problems with using voice-based digital assistants in the home.
  • These were:
    • First, voice control: RFM research (see here) has found that voice communication with machines is very far from being good enough to work effectively without a screen for output.
    • The issue is that even the best machines are not yet intelligent enough to provide a useful experience using voice-only and often have to fall back to a screen.
    • In Google Assistant’s and Alexa’s case has meant using the screen of a smartphone which is not an optimal experience especially as most voice usage occurs when the hands are busy doing something else.
    • At launch Essential Products had taken this into consideration as its small device (Essential Home) has an attractive looking screen on the top.
    • This looks much better than hideous Amazon Show which seems to have been designed to be a jack-of-all-trades (master of none).
    • I think that Essential hit the nail on the head and its product should optimally fix the single biggest current problem with human machine voice interaction with its integrated screen.
    • However, should Google come up with an attractive take on Google Home but with a screen, I think this will lessen the appeal of Essential Home materially.
    • Second, fragmentation: Despite Amazon Alexa being able to talk to almost everything, the experience has been horribly fragmented.
    • Google Home has been no better and has also suffered from their being fewer compatible devices.
    • The real use case for the smart home is where all elements in the home are aware of each other and can be controlled together.
    • For example, the use should be able to say “I am going to bed” resulting in the doors locking, blinds drawn, heating turned down and so on.
    • Instead each separate device has had to be manually operated and adjusted.
    • With each launching a service called “routines” (see here and here) both Google and Amazon have moved to start addressing this issue.
    • How well these “routines” work remains to be seen but critically, both companies have recognised the biggest problems with their services and are moving to address them.
  • The net result is that the opportunities for small differentiated services to break into this space by doing something better is closing fast.
  • This combined with the fact that developers will be making their devices work with Amazon first (and maybe Google) will make it even more difficult for smaller players to break-in.
  • Market penetration remains very low which means there is still a chance, but new entrants need to act fast as the big players are moving much more quickly than their size would indicate.