What it is: Amazon created the stand alone voice assistant market, but now they’re trying to compete against Apple’s upcoming HomePod.
With the iPhone 4s, Apple introduced Siri, a voice assistant that could accurately listen to voice commands and obey them. Strangely, Apple focused on increasing the number of languages Siri could recognize but didn’t improve its features. That allowed competitors to catch up like Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. Since Amazon flopped with their own smartphone, they forged ahead to put Alexa in a standalone device that has defined a new market.
The Amazon Echo is inexpensive enough for people to try it. In comparison, Apple’s upcoming HomePod is far more expensive ($349) but also offers much higher audio quality along with the ability to link with multiple HomePods to create a unique audio experience. Plus HomePod can adjust its sound based on its physical location so placing it in the corner of a room will create one type of audio quality while putting it in the middle of the room will create a different audio quality based on its physical surroundings.
The goal of HomePod isn’t just to be a standalone voice assistant but to offer superior audio quality as well. If people want an inexpensive voice assistant, they’ll still probably choose an Amazon Echo, but if they prefer superior audio quality as a wireless speaker, they’ll likely prefer Apple’s HomePod. That’s why Amazon is trying to offer a new Echo model that offers higher quality audio quality.
Amazon is likely shooting for nearly equal audio quality at a lower price. Whether Amazon succeeds or not is irrelevant since Apple will still capture the higher end market much like iOS has already done in the smartphone and tablet markets. Amazon sells plenty of Kindle tablets, but really makes a profit on them through increased spending of ebooks through Amazon. Apple makes money selling iPads and then selling apps, music, and video as well.
Amazon’s latest Echo will try to compete against Apple’s HomePod and will likely succeed in price, but not in audio quality. For some people, that will be fine. For others, the higher price of a HomePod will be worth the higher audio quality.
Apple simply targets the high end market while rivals target the low end market. The real key isn’t just selling stand alone voice assistant units but in creating wireless speakers and a hub for controlling home devices like lights and doors. Apple already has their HomeKit framework that’s slowly gaining traction. Amazon needs to work with third-parties to connect Echo devices to home control as well. It won’t be difficult but it won’t be as smoothly integrated as Apple’s HomeKit promises to be.
No matter what Amazon does, Apple’s HomePod will become the higher quality option and Amazon will become the lower cost option. The battle of stand alone voice assistants is basically between Amazon and Apple with Google offering a third alternative. The key to stand alone voice assistants is audio quality and links to home automation. Apple’s HomeKit offers the best security while rivals offer the most options. In the long run, security will be a higher priority than low cost if the price also includes poorer security.
Expect Apple’s HomePod to be a decent product, but not earth-shattering like the iPhone. Then watch as HomeKit and HomePod grow together while Amazon and Google gather up the market share while Apple collects the most profit share. When HomePod arrives in time for the holidays, we’ll know for sure how the stand alone voice assistant market will shake out.