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Apple launches HomePod

Ronan de Renesse, Practice Leader, Consumer Tech

Apple's much-anticipated smart speaker, the HomePod, started to ship to consumers in the US, UK, and Australia on February 9th. Priced at $349 in the US, the device is primarily designed to offer a unique audio speaker–quality experience and works exclusively with iOS devices and Apple Music. A slimmed-down version of Siri operates with the speaker, providing a voice-based interface to access the news, play/pause music, send or receive messages, and access a handful of additional features. The limited Siri features make the HomePod inferior to Google Home and Amazon Echo as a smart speaker, but it offers the best audio quality for its price range. As with any new Apple product, the device is expected to sell out quickly. The lack of Android support and Spotify access are major downfalls, but these can easily be addressed by Apple via a software update later if necessary.

Facebook is rumored to be entering the smart home with a video-call device

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Facebook will soon start targeting the smart home space with a new video chat device named Portal, priced at $499. Despite its high price tag, Facebook's Portal will be pitched as a voice-activated collaborative device similar to Amazon's Echo Show, with additional social and face recognition features to associate users with their Facebook accounts. This move, which will raise concerns in terms of privacy, comes just after Facebook announced the shutdown of its personal assistant, M. Also, since 2016, no news has emerged regarding Jarvis, Facebook's AI assistant that debuted using Morgan Freeman's "voice of God." This poses questions on how the company will compete and gain a place in the crowded AI assistant market, where Alexa and Google Assistant are key contenders. Facebook's focus on communications and social media will probably be the main differentiator of Portal, but to compete with the likes of Amazon, Google, and Apple, Facebook will have to provide the enhanced functionality of a truly AI smart speaker with multiple skills and integration into third-party products and services.

Lenovo and Google partner to create their own Echo Show

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Over the past year, Google has been playing catch-up, following Amazon's footsteps in terms of product strategy for the smart home. Google is now working with Lenovo and other companies to launch Echo Show lookalikes with Google Assistant built in. Announced at CES 2018, the Lenovo Smart Display will offer enhanced features in terms of privacy (a physical shutter to cover the lens) and access to YouTube videos. YouTube is not currently available on Echo Show after Google decided to pull it off due to an ongoing war between the two companies. Unlike Amazon, Google has decided on third-party manufacturers to launch the first Google Assistant smart speaker with touchscreen display, establishing a new approach for its hardware strategy. However, this doesn't mean that Google will not continue developing and promoting its own smart devices. On the contrary, Ovum expects this market approach will give Google the necessary support and push from its partner ecosystem to compete more aggressively with Amazon in the smart home space while perfecting its own hardware.

Alibaba and MediaTek launch a new smart home connectivity protocol based on Bluetooth Mesh

Ronan de Renesse, Practice Leader, Consumer Tech

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Taiwanese fabless semiconductor MediaTek have partnered to develop yet another smart home connectivity solution called Smartmesh, based on the Bluetooth Mesh technology standard introduced in July 2017. Alibaba created an open IoT platform on the top of Smartmesh called IoTConnect, while MediaTek will be providing compatible Bluetooth chipsets. All of this will be fully integrated into Alibaba's smart speaker Tmall Genie. Mesh technology is key to the future development of smart home as it helps provide a wider, more reliable, and power-efficient network. Zigbee and Z-Wave are the two most common mesh standards in the smart home. Bluetooth Mesh was only introduced in mid-2017, and it will take some time for compatible devices to come to market. With Smartmesh, Alibaba looks to be adopting a similar approach as Google with Thread. It is unlikely to become a major differentiator for Alibaba in the short term.

UK police hope smart home tech will reduce strain on emergency call centers

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

As Ovum predicted, voice-enabled interfaces are becoming increasingly prevalent in homes, and over time voice will become one of the main ways we interact with technology, alongside sight and touch. Home AI assistant speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home have already sold tens of millions of devices, and Apple joined the race (at least in the US, UK, and Australia) on Friday February 9th with its HomePod speaker. Given the increasing popularity of such devices, all types of service organization are now exploring how these new devices and features fit into their supply and communication chains – just as they did with other major technology evolutions such as smartphones and social communication platforms.

The UK emergency services are constantly looking for ways to reduce the strain on their emergency numbers in order to prioritize true emergency calls. They currently do this through a combination of public education and the use of other communication channels, such as social media for non-emergency enquiries and information. Exploring how home AI speakers can be used in this context only seems natural. Of course, just like all other organizations, working out how to use this new channel most effectively, while maintaining personal privacy, will take time. Ovum expects first trials to be fairly limited in scope.

Appendix

Further reading

Developing Business Strategies for a Smart Wi-Fi Gateway, CES006-000008 (January 2018)

Smart Home Vendor Tracker: 2H17, CES006-000005 (January 2018)

Smart Home Vendor Tracker: 2H17 Highlights, CES004-000009 (February 2018)

On-Device AI: Demand Analysis, Chipset Vendor Strategies, and Future Outlook, CES004-000007 (January 2018)

"AT&T enhances the broadband experience with AirTies' mesh technology," CES006-000010 (January 2018)

"Comcast simplifies the smart home by putting Xfinity at the core," CES006-000007 (January 2018)

"O2 UK retreats from the smart home industry," CES006-000006 (January 2018)

Author

Ronan de Renesse, Practice Leader, Consumer Technology

ronan.derenesse@ovum.com

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

mariana.zamoszczyk@ovum.com

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

michael.philpott@ovum.com

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