The 2017 Voice Report is a look ahead at what to expect in the coming chat wars between companies like Microsoft, Samsung, Google, and Amazon. It’s also a survey of Google Assistant and Alexa users, and a look into why some startups make more successful Alexa skills than others.
VoiceLabs works with developers making Google Assistant actions and Alexa skills. The company was created last year by Alexandre Linares and Adam Marchick shortly after Marchick stepped down as CEO of mobile marketing company Kahuna, which he cofounded in 2012. Combined, VoiceLabs customers serve more than a million people using devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, Marchick told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
Here are 5 of the most interesting predictions from the 2017 Voice Report.
1. The next nine months will be incredibly important to the economic ecosystem emerging around intelligent assistants
Many consumers have not yet definitively decided which intelligent assistant they like best, but they have decided they aren’t interested in buying multiple AI-powered assistants. In its December 2016 survey of Amazon Echo and Google Home devices, VoiceLabs found that only 11 percent would be willing to buy a Google Home after buying an Amazon Echo and vice versa.
“What that means is that for the next nine months, it’s a winner-takes-entire-household market where whatever first device you buy in the home, there’s a good chance you’re going to stay loyal to that platform and buy more of that same platform,” Marchick told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “You’ll buy four Echo Dots to go with the Echo, so it makes getting devices out there in the next nine months critical.”
“It’s also an alarm bell to Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, that they’ve got to join the party, and they’ve got to do it quickly,” he said.
2. Push notifications and social connection will be the Pokémon Go of intelligent assistants
There are no breakout hits at the moment among the more than 8,000 Alexa skills and approximately 75 Google Assistant conversation actions, no killer app to be found.
“Right now the closest thing we have to Pokémon Go is Spotify and Amazon Music,” Marchick said.
Consistent with other studies, VoiceLabs found that about 45 percent of people surveyed use their smart speaker to play music or books more than for any other purpose.
In order to make the creation of a killer bot possible, Marchick says developers need the ability to send push notifications and to connect with their personal social network. He predicts that both of these functions may emerge in 2017. Targeting activity based on activity by friends in your social network may lead to an increase in skill adoption.
“It’s going to be like ’15 of your friends are talking right now. Do you want to join them?’ or ’20 of your friends just installed Pokémon Go. Do you want to be left out or not?’” Marchick said.
Instead of a never-ending list of notifications, expect three or four highly valuable, proactive notifications each day, based on activity.
Unfortunately, Marchick expects push notifications for voice-enabled devices to be a lot like those on mobile devices, at least at first.
“First there’s going to be the capability of a push notification, and it will probably be abused, and then it will get cracked down on, and then they’ll realize that you’ve got to do this intelligently,” he said.
3. The number of devices sold will quadruple
VoiceLabs estimates that 6.5 million voice-enabled devices were sold in 2015 and 2016, and that 24.5 million will be sold throughout 2017. This will bring overall sales to 33 million since 2014. VoiceLabs arrived at that number by combining estimates of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) devices sold with receipt tracking by InfoScout and KPCB research.
“We got a growth curve for 2016, and we used that growth curve to project out to 2017, and that’s how we got 24.5 [million] in our full report,” Marchick said.
In Amazon’s case at least, many of these sales may not take place until the end of the year. Quarterly sales announced Thursday said Alexa sales were highest during the holiday season, which have proven to be its best days of the year for sales.
4. Intelligent assistant makers will battle to ‘own the night’
Intelligent assistants do a pretty good job of owning the morning already by serving up flash news briefings and control of Internet of Things devices to turn on the lights, lift the blinds, and start the coffee maker. What’s important — and a battle still being waged in these chat wars — is owning the night. So what does that mean? It means making the best services for connection to devices like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast.
It also means adding a new functionality.
“Direct person-to-person communication is a capability that doesn’t exist yet for both of these devices, but once you can just talk to your family and suddenly everyone is instantly connected … it’s just like really seamless and delightful,” Marchick said.
5. Tech giants will release two new smart speakers by the end of year
We all know about Alexa and Google Home. We also know that Apple is thinking of making a competitor and that Cortana will be available soon in myriad devices.
VoiceLabs believes that by the end of 2017, two new popular devices with intelligent assistants inside will emerge to compete with the Echo and Home, likely from Samsung, Apple, or Microsoft.
Whether or not four turns out to be the magic number, intelligent assistants from Microsoft and the like are on the way. A Cortana skills kit is scheduled to be released in early 2017, while Samsung, following the acquisition of Viv, plans to roll out its new Samsung Galaxy S8 with assistant Bixby on March 29.
Cortana, Google Assistant, and Alexa are making their way into more cars and appliances, so even if there is no epic battle between four smart speakers with an intelligent assistant inside, you can absolutely expect to find them in many devices other than smart speakers.