When Amazon launched their Echo chamber music player, it had no apparent purpose. Yet it ended up top of Amazon’s most wished for gift items for Christmas 2015, and bagged an impressive 4.5 out of 5 on their review platform, bagged across 30k reviews. In the end Echo found its place at the heart of the smart home, helping home automation nerds to power their smarthome.
Echo, which utilises Alexa to act like Amazon’s Siri, a voice controlled input that enables you to control the music you listen to, as well as – as it turns out – a whole host of other stuff. Yet the popularity of Echo’s use case seems to outweigh the slightly lackluster take-up of Siri on the iPhone, rendering the question as to whether Amazon have found the voice controlled technologies core calling? Could the future of voice control be in the home more than on the phone?
Amazon have quietly positioned themselves at the heart of the smart home, a fact made abundantly clear by the way they played the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. They have added a blue chip integration with Ford, as well as Phillips (with their wonderful Hue lighting system, representing another major technology name betting big on the smarthome concept) as well as a host of the start-ups in this space. By virtue of another partnership, Amazon have bagged Nest, the Google owned smart-thermometer too. This caused us to declare that the smarthome is now a battle ground between Amazon and Samsung, who via their SmartThings acquisition are also betting big on the smarthome revolving around the TV set.
Apple meanwhile have Homekit, their smarthome offering. This is the one major integration that Amazon do not have. Homekit uses Siri in a similar way to Echo, but Homekit is nowhere in the smart home race at the moment. Alexa is at the heart of the Amazon offering, where Siri is – much like on the iPhone – peripheral. To leverage Siri on the Apple smarthome platform would require everyone in the house to have an iPhone or iPad, which defeats the purpose. Alexa via Echo can listen from one Echo device to the whole household, assuming you don’t live in a mansion. One Echo costs 30% of a single iPhone, so a family of four would be paying 250% more to use Siri for their voice control. This is clearly a big premium for an offering that Apple seems disinterested in.
Yet, 2016 could be the year that this all changes. Apple are well placed to outbox Amazon here. Siri is older, and thus has more learnings. Its been aorund for three years longer and is on more devices, by a double digit multiple, than Alexa. They have Beats, meaning they have the music and sound pedigree to come out with a true Echo beatr, which would challenge the rapidly held conviction – including here at HomeTechStar – that Echo is the logical smarthome hub in early 2016. The smart and/or connected speaker market is anticipated to hit $25b in 2020, making it a lucrative market.
So is this the year when Apple enter the fray to compete with Amazon and Samsung, which would effectively require a relaunch of HomeKit around a Siri info box. It would leverage Beats and Apple TV, joining the dots with the iPad, iPhone and the newly launched Apple Music. It seems to make sense, and the smart home market is rapidly becoming too big for Apple to ignore.