Voice control will be critical for all new tech products including those in general computing category. Consumers will increasingly demand the feature whether it is built-in or accessed by a smart speaker.

CES 2019 is littered with new voice enabled smart speakers, PCs, screens, TVs, washing machines, home appliances, car and toys. All designed to turn us into a race of sedentary beings. GadgetGuy predicts CES 2020 will be totally voice driven.

New research from RBC Capital Markets in the USA showed that 41% of US households (up from 21.5% in 2017) now have voice control via a smart speaker. Google is gaining traction with 29% (up from 8% in 2017), and Amazon Alexa leads with 66% as it was first to market. Siri is lagging with barely 2%.

In Australia, the Google/Amazon situation is different with OK Google selling 3-to-1 over Amazon Alexa. Reasons include not wanting to enter or trust the Amazon shopping-based ecosystem. It is not as well known here!

Either way, Siri is coming a very poor last with Apple well behind in home automation – but it is the only choice for Apple aficionados.

Both leaders are adding features daily. Amazon uses skills developed by external vendors, e.g. “Ask Philips Hue to turn on the lounge lights”. There are now over 60,000 skills (only a small percentage work in Australia). Amazon supports its own ‘Prime’ products like music and movies, often to the exclusion of other providers. Alexa speakers come from Amazon Echo and Sonos.

voice control

Google looks for tighter integration into the OK Google system

OK Google turn on the lounge lights”. And its products including Nest, Pixel and Chromecast have very tight integration – they just work – easier to use. Google’s open system means speakers from LG, JBL, Panasonic, Lenovo and more support it – better sound and unlike Alexa, you can upload your music library to the cloud.

Both are excellent smart speakers with similar features – Alexa supports slightly more smart devices (skills) while Google is a more open system and simpler. It accesses Google Search and supports more non-Google music and movies.

The choice then comes down to the preference of the ecosystem as opposed to the hardware.

If you are in Google’s Android camp, then Google Assistant is for you. Google’s natural language understanding is superior, and its search capabilities are best in the long run.

Either way, voice will become more user-friendly and is moving to AI – human responses. Google has the edge with follow-up questions and context.

Despite the growing capabilities of smart speakers, people still use them for basic functions: listening to music or podcasts, catching up on the news, getting weather and traffic updates and asking general questions.

Only a small number of people are using speakers for shopping. Frankly it is too hard!

GadgetGuy’s take: Voice control is the next mouse!

Alexa is leading in smart home integration. OK Google leads everywhere else and is backed by way more intelligence. From GadgetGuy’s perspective, we now have two test beds and will objectively compare the ecosystems in 2019.

While the US has 41% smart speaker penetration, Australia has a fraction of that. Noted research company Telsyte says about 500,000 households (5%) have a smart speaker and that it will eventually come down to Google or Apple ecosystem – what ecosystem are you locked into?

“Marketers can’t ignore the rise of smart speakers as a new digital interface,” says Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi.

Voicebot AI says Google has 61% of the Australian market (July 2018) versus Amazon Alexa at 21%. Canalys predicts Google will level that playing field in the US and other markets in the years to come.

Finally, Loup Ventures repeated its annual intelligence test. Google Assistant understood and answered 100% of the questions and got 87.9% correct. Siri answered 99.6% of questions and 74.6% correct. Alexa answered 72.5% of questions and got 99% of these correct.