Emerging research shows that Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa users. GadgetGuy has both types set up as test-beds, and we set out to find out why.

Note: In part our research used the search statement ‘Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa’ AND vice versa. It focuses on the past 12 months. Where possible we use Australian results.

First, some voice sales stats

The US voice assistant market had about 17% household market penetration in 2018. Australia has about 5%, but we were late starters.

In the US Amazon Alexa Echo speakers were first to market in late 2014 – virtually creating the voice control market – and took a commanding lead with 66.6% of sales in 2018.

Google Assistant came to market in mid-2017, but the tide is quickly turning towards it.

eMarket analysts state that Amazon’s US share will continue to shrink while those of its rivals will grow and overtake it by 2020. Particularly as Google Assistant support increases with brands like Sonos, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Lenovo and of course Google’s hardware.

Analyst Jaimie Chung said

“Amazon has remained relevant by plugging Alexa into premium speakers like the Sonos. But Sonos plans to bring Google Assistant to its devices real will change the balance in the voice assistant race.”

Amazon Alexa speakers have greater US market share because Amazon is an accepted shopping source. Not so in Australia. Why?

While there is also a good recognition of the name Amazon in the US (23rd in the Forbes RepTrack Index), Google rates well ahead at number three. Millennials rank Google number one on that index. As the Amazon empire becomes more visible and the issues play out with the CEO’S messy divorce and some strategic airing of ‘dirty washing’ it is fast slipping in the RepTrack.

Voicebot AI states that in July 2018 in Australia Google Assistant was outselling Alexa at least three-to-one. Similarly, in Canada Google Assistant is outselling Alexa two-to-one. Our spies at JB Hi-Fi confirm that and say that over the 2018 Christmas period hardly any Alexa sold at retail – they can’t comment on Amazon direct sales.

The reverse in Australia is because Amazon is not a household name here.

According to Neto Australia, an e-commerce platform that services Australian sellers on both Amazon and eBay.

  • About 10% of Australians regularly use Amazon, but 63% regularly use eBay.
  • eBay is Australia’s 4th most visited website well above Pornhub, Xvideos, Wikipedia and News.com.au. The most visited sites are Google (search), Facebook and YouTube.
  • eBay Australia receives about 63 million visits a month (12M unique shoppers) compared to Amazon at 10 million visits (unique visitors are unknown).
  • eBay gets more monthly traffic than the next seven e-commerce sites combined (JB Hi-Fi, Kogan, Harvey Norman, Myer, David Jones, Etsy and Amazon).
  • eBay is the number one downloaded e-commerce app on iTunes and Google Play.
  • 80 of Australia’s top 100 bricks and mortar retailers have an eBay shop, and there are more than 40,000 other Aussie owned stores on the platform.
  • eBay has the added credibility of PayPal and delivery/service/money back guarantees.

We make the point that the US knows Amazon – not so much here and that may partially account for lack of take up of Amazon Alexa speakers.

What do people do with a voice assistant? (eMarket US figures)

  • 80% listen to audio
  • 73% make inquiries like weather, news etc
  • 35% control smart home devices (lights, thermostat or motion/video detection)
  • 3% do online shopping (or at least research for a purchase)

Kantar Worldpanel US findings

Kantar Worldpanel is a global group of users and measures both intent and uses on a broad range of subjects. The US voice assistant panel comprises 20,000 users.

Use (in percent) Google Assistant Amazon Alexa
Order take-out food 15.6 6.2
Ask for recipies 20 11.7
Create shopping list 17.3 15
Order groceries 12.6 4.6
Check the weather 58.4 53.7
Check your diary 19.7 14.3
Asdk general knowledge questions 52.8 40.8
Newsfeed 50.8 37.9
Check travel info 29.6 20
Make voice calls 29.3 19.6
Streaming music 68.4 64.3
Listen to more music than before 31.4 27.3
Switch from free to paid music 16.2 12.2
Now regard voice assistance as a must have prerequisite for any new tech 14 11.5
Use a smartphone less 15.8 10.2
Use a PC less 15.8 8.2
Shop (for clothes etc) 4.5 2.3

Kantar says Google users receive the most benefit and embrace more changes. Why?

It appears to come down to more people trusting Google Assistant because

  1. It comes with Android phones (currently 87% global market share or over 2 billion active devices).
  2. Google claims more than 1 billion active Assistant users in 28 languages and 80 countries. Amazon has around 100 million devices. Siri has 500 million.
  3. Just ‘Google it’ (search) has become ‘muscle memory’.
  4. It is not tied to any shopping ecosystem of goods or services (one could argue that paid AdWords may influence results)

Google Search use is on a vastly larger scale (than Bing), so it has leant more.

Google Assistant answers, especially to imprecise or conversational questions are very good.

A recent test by Loup Ventures (second year in a row) asking both Google Assistant and Alexa 800 questions resulted in a 100% answer rate and 87.9% correct on Google. Alexa answered 99% with 72.5% accuracy. In the first year, it has an answer rate of 88/73% respectively.

Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa

Loup Ventures shows the inherent bias/pedigree with this question, “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.”

Google’s accuracy is higher because it takes into account your location, past search history, social media engagement and other relevant factors when serving you a result. Yes, the more it knows about you so it can tailor results.

Google Assistant for shopping requires no ‘Prime’ subscription. When a user asks a product-based voice query to Google Assistant, Google Express presents its recommended products based on the query using the Shopping Actions platform. For smaller retailers, attracting shoppers through Google is a viable option.

Users report a high satisfaction level and that there are very few “Sorry I don’t know that, but I am always learning.”

Alexa answers are getting better, but it has more limited data sources

Alexa started as a voice portal for Amazon goods and services. It has more limited horizons – Amazon, Bing search and Wikipedia are its main data sources.

Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are trillion-dollar tech companies. BTW Alphabet, Facebook and Netflix are not far behind either. Interestingly these all have one thing in common – their services all use AI and machine learning.

Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa

Amazon started 1994 as a cloud computing service (Amazon Web Services). It built an empire based on online delivery of goods and services. Underpinning it is a very sophisticated AI analytics system to generate demand for its products and an e-commerce fulfilment system to deliver them.

It took just ten years for it to overtake Walmart – the US’s largest bricks and mortar retailer.

Understandably Alexa first draws on Amazon expertise, goods and services for an answer.

According to Alphametric, “When processing a voice search query, Amazon will prioritise whichever goods or service that are Amazon’s ‘choice’. These products use several criteria, including popularity, competitive pricing, low return rate, availability to ship quickly, sold by Amazon itself (not a merchant) and they must be Prime members. Amazon is moving from an e-commerce platform to a serious competitor for its merchants as reported in ITy Bytes on 22 March.  

Alphametric says that this inherent bias (and that is Amazon’s prerogative with Alexa) means it is selling goods and services that make it the most return, not those that may be best for the user.

It finishes, “To shop using voice search on Alexa, users need an Alexa-enable device, an Amazon Prime membership, and the desire to shop from an arbitrarily limited selection of items.”

That leads to distrust.

What does Amazon own/do?

  • Amazon.com and Amazon Prime membership for additional benefits
  • Prime Music and Music Unlimited (and variants)
  • Prime Video (and variants)
  • Amazon Studios (creates video content)
  • Amazon App store (for its Amazon devices)
  • Kindle and Kindle eBook store
  • Goodreads and Shelfari – user’s recommendations for Amazon Books
  • Audible – spoken entertainment
  • Alexa – voice recognition, shopping and analytics
  • Fire TV devices – casting video content to a TV
  • Fire Tablets
  • Echo speakers and devices
  • Digital Games Store
  • Twitch live streaming games platform
  • Amazon Wireless
  • Amazon Web Services
  • ComiXology – digital comics platform
  • Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market
  • Amazon search and reviews
  • And many, many more enterprises in over 130 countries
  • The Wikipedia Article is here.

Alexa skills

Alexa uses skills – apps to do something. For example, to turn the lights off in the lounge you say, Hey Alexa, ask Philips Hue to turn the lights off in the lounge.”

Alexa claims 50,000+ skills including those for 20,000 smart devices and about 3,500 brands (e.g. banks, shops etc). It even has a Windows skill to supplant Cortana. A ‘skill’ uses the Alexa Smart Home API – not necessarily any hardware.

At last count, about 8,000 skills work in Australia.

  • Business and finance related queries, e.g. if your bank (NAB and Westpac) has a skill, it can give you balances etc
  • Connected car – Order Uber etc
  • Education and reference
  • Food and Drink – order Uber Eats, Domino’s Pizza or make a booking on The Fork (painful!!!)
  • Games, Trivia and accessories – Sports facts
  • Health and Fitness
  • Lifestyle – control smart home devices generally using a third-party smart hub

Skills range from useful to banal. For example, there is a guard dog skill that makes the speaker bark. The only problem is that I could not get it to stop barking!

Many skills are more about promoting the brand/product than being useful. According to Deloitte the sole purpose of a skill is to gain mind space, so you remember it when you purchase. “Skills are more brand name heavy and focused around asking for [a specific] brand than really useful.”

Google Home Actions

Google seems to require devices to be designed for Google Home, and that usually involves including a specific piece of silicon (chip). For example, the Philips Hue bridge is Google Home enabled allowing the far simpler command, “OK Google turn the lounge lights off” (as it knows what the lounge lights are).

It claims more than 1 million actions and 10,000 smart devices.

GadgetGuy’s take –Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa

The real question is – what is best? Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa?

We have a full test suite of both Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Both are competent voice assistants, and it is too early to call the winner. What is clear is that Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa have overtaken Cortana, Bixby, ThinQ and other voice assistant challengers.

Twelve months ago, Alexa was ahead on points but what a difference a year makes. The use cases for voice assistants continues to explode, and almost every new tech device supports them both. We are going on the voice control journey whether we like it or not.

And as time progresses all voice assistants will have to develop the same levels of linguistic competence or fall by the wayside. At present Google’s continued conversation mode and vastly wider language support puts it in front.

What will accelerate one over another is to find an exclusive, must have, action or purpose.

For example, in the Apple world, you only have one choice. I suspect that in the Android world tighter integration with Google Maps, Translate, Lens etc., will make Google Assistant the one choice.

If you accept the stats, Google Assistant is fast narrowing the gap in Alexa’s US homeland and is well ahead in the rest of the world.

Without fear or favour, I have had a greater level of success in using Google Home products over Alexa skills products. With the former, it just works!

I think it will come down to Android users will favour Google Assistant as it is part of the environment. Just as Apple users will favour Siri. Inveterate shoppers will favour Alexa, and perhaps that portends the answer of what is best. In the interim – fact: Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa