Aussies embrace smart speakers

Smart speaker
100% human

Some 26% of Aussies own smart speakers, it is likely to be a Google speaker, and 25% have three or more in the home. The research conducted by Edison Australia follows its work in the US. Methodology: online poll between 19/4/21 and 5/5/21 with 5000 adults 18 years or older.

Commercial Radio Australia sponsored the 32-page Smart Audio Report. It obviously has a keen interest in where and how we consume audio content. Smart speakers have to potential to eat their lunch if not embraced.

Smart speakers report highlights

The following are the Australian highlights from the smart speakers report and GadgetGuy’s informed commentary.

  • 26% own a smart speaker – that is around 5.6 million people. That is well up from 5% in 2018, 13% in 2019 and 17% in 2020. If this trend keeps growing at an exponential rate, we see 100% penetration well before 2030. We are not far behind the US at 33% – they had access to Amazon Alexa a year earlier than here.
  • Interestingly the sales ratio of Google to Alexa here is 8:1. In the US, where Alexa was first, and Amazon is a household name, it is approx. 1:2. Google figures worldwide (except the US) show a considerable margin from underdog to 8:1 in just two years. BTW – Apple barely makes a blip on the stats.
  • 55% own one speaker, and 45% own two or more. Retailers report that the first purchase is usually a Google Nest Mini at $49 to allow users to get a feel for what it does. The second purchase is typically a Google Nest Hub ($149 with video screen for free Duo video telephone calls). Later purchases are for multi-room music, including Sonos 5 ($749 stereo), Sonos One ($299 usually sold in pairs for stereo), Sonos Roam ($279 mono portable) and Sonos Move ($649 transportable). Increasingly people expect soundbars to be smart speakers.
  • 55% place it in the living room, followed by 31% kitchen, 29% main bedroom, 21% home office, 20% other bedrooms, and 11% bathroom (multiple speaker ownership). Retailers report that once you have found your ‘groove’, you quickly find other uses.
  • 63% don’t know the extent of what it can do. An awful lot (63%) use them to entertain kids.
  • 67% use the speaker daily, and 49% say it has encouraged them to use the smartphone voice assistant.
  • 65% use it for music. We don’t know if that is from streaming radio, streaming services like Spotify or even DLNA home music collections.
  • 59/55/46% use it for weather/time/alarms
  • 53% use it to answer general knowledge questions.
  • 41% for news (usually a command that invokes the ABC summary).
  • 61% will buy more speakers.
  • 70% say it makes their life easier, and 41% would never go back to life without it.

Trust is a huge issue affecting what you do with smart speakers

62% trust that their information is secure. Overall, there is still a wariness that hackers, government and others could illegally listen to your conversations. In reality, that is a very low probability for either type. It is more likely to be an issue with the plethora of Chinese security cameras and IoT that are never updated.

In Australia, Google has far more trust than Amazon to the extent that it has never hidden its business model or its intentions – to make money and serve us at the same time are complimentary.

By comparison, Amazon’s data collection is laser-focused on making you buy more. It also aggregates data from hundreds of sources to build a profile that knows things, not even your mother knows. How can you trust Amazon, a company that uses information against you, including setting prices on what you can afford to pay? But, in the US, Google and Amazon have similar trust ratings.

But both brands are among the top 10 most distrusted brands in Australia, joining Facebook and Telstra. Apple and Microsoft are among the top 10 trusted brands.

Voice assistant shopping is in its infancy – at present, 33% have thought about it, and 28% have ordered a product. We venture mainly on the Alexa Platform that drives you to its products, “Want to buy that?”

But by far, the largest group do not consider voice shopping a necessity. Issues include needing to see the item before you buy, ordering the wrong thing etc.

The smart speaker digital divide

62% of non-smart speaker owners don’t see the need, but that leaves 38% who will likely purchase. The most frequent response is that you don’t need that technology in your life, and it can snoop. They are not Luddites, but there is a clear correlation between age, acceptance and use.

The radio industry has cause to be concerned

Smart speakers are gradually taking over from radios. Its amazing the high percentage of users that don’t know that they can also access digital radio stations. Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime and more are taking away music listeners. New free to air advertising-supported services like Sonos Radio are a huge threat.

And the winner is?

I suspect OK Google will win solely because of its Android roots and seamless integration with the smartphone and auto ecosystem. Its answers are more fact-based. Here is an example

“How much would a manicure cost?”

Alexa: “The top search result for a manicure is Beurer Electric Manicure & Pedicure Kit. It’s $59 on Amazon. Want to buy it?

Google Assistant: “On average, a basic manicure will cost you about $20. However, special types of manicures like acrylic, gel, shellac, and no-chip range from about $20 to $50 in price, depending on the salon.”

You can read more about the two speaker systems here.

GadgetGuy’s take

We have two test labs – I get to play with OK Google, and Adam Turner is our Alexa expert. We started covering both in 2018, and at that time, it was more a novelty. Now it is a necessity.

From my perspective, I increasingly use OK Google, a.k.a. Google Home. For example

  • It now controls at least half of our lighting – but more importantly, that half is energy efficient task lighting – reading, up lights, kitchen, balcony etc., and we are saving heaps by not using more lighting.
  • It now streams audio pretty well all day and provides relaxing music at night – we have dual Spotify accounts (necessary if you want to listen to two different playlists).
  • Three have video screens showing time or phot gallery. One has a large screen mainly for Duo video calls to the kidults and grandkids. We also use it for various home automation tasks where a touch screen is more accurate than a voice command.
  • All the Arlo cameras and doorbells integrate – Show me who is at the front door?
  • Voice is now the key to finding video content on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Freeview, and turning on TVs. Chromecast also allows up to 4K video and audio to stream around the home.
  • When we want good quality stereo music, we tell Google to stream to Sonos 5 or a soundbar
  • It answers inane queries like who what sound do ducks make?
  • It answers relevant questions
  • Provides a news summary
  • As a result, I use OK Google now more on the Android smartphone
  • We don’t use voice match as we don’t wish to open up personal details like email and calendars.

I have gone from a non-user to a full-on user in three years who could not imagine life without Google.