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Amazon and more than 30 key technology players announce the Voice Interoperability Initiative

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Amazon, Baidu, Bose, Microsoft, Salesforce, Sonos, Orange, Verizon, Intel, and Qualcomm Technologies, among other key companies with strong links to the artificial intelligence (AI) assistant market, have committed to work together under the new Voice Interoperability Initiative. The main purpose is to promote choice and make it easier for users to interact with multiple AI assistants on single devices such as smart speakers. Defining the specifics of how voice interoperability will work among all members is yet to be defined, and it will probably take time to see the first rules of engagement. The commitment in itself is an accomplishment, but securing a seamless user experience will be instrumental for the initiative to prosper. Addressing issues around privacy and security will also require immediate attention.

The absence of Google, Apple, and Samsung speaks volumes. All of them have a key presence in the smartphone market with their own AI assistants and selective open platform approach. Instead, Amazon has largely focused on the smart home market, advocating the benefits of interoperability since the beginning. Ovum expects Amazon to rely on this initiative to rapidly increase its competitive edge against them in terms of user experience and applications with enhanced voice functionality.

Amazon unveils new Echo devices and Alexa features

Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology

Amazon unveiled a range of new Echo devices ranging from the basic and affordable $25 Echo Flex all the way up to its premium home speaker, the $200 Echo Studio. Among the announcements were updates to the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show. Amazon is strongest in the home, and Amazon is ensuring no box is left unchecked in covering all its bases: the premium positioning of the Echo Studio, in particular, can be viewed as a response to Apple's HomePod. Wearables featured heavily in the announcements too, with earbuds (Echo Buds), smart eyewear (Echo Frames), and even a smart ring (Echo Loop) introduced, all featuring access to Alexa on the move. Amazon knows that without a native presence on smartphones, Alexa will always be playing second fiddle to Apple's Siri and Google Assistant there. So it is aiming to jump ahead to the next wave of consumer mobile devices to gain a foothold outside the home.

Amazon introduces Sidewalk to extend connectivity beyond the home

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

At its annual hardware event, among a range of new nifty devices, Amazon launched a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol called "Sidewalk." With a whole raft of wireless LAN protocols out there, it came as a bit of a surprise that Amazon felt the need to develop yet another one. However, Amazon feels that there is a gap in the market that has largely been ignored, and that's for an inexpensive, medium-range wireless protocol that can quickly and efficiently cover a whole neighborhood. In a pilot of just 700 customers (chosen at random) in the Los Angeles area, Amazon was able to cover pretty much the whole of the city. There are other, more mature, protocols on the market such as LoRa that can also cover "neighborhood areas" rather than just a single building, so its not a given that Sidewalk will be a long-term success. However, the concept of neighborhood networks and the new business models that these could enable is intriguing indeed and is likely to kick-start a new wave of product and business innovation.

Facebook announces new Portal smart displays

Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology

Despite facing a headwind of privacy concerns, Facebook is pushing ahead with its smart display Portal and unveiled a range of new devices to go on sale alongside the original Portal including a 10-inch version, an 8-inch version, and a set-top device that uses the television as a display. Facebook has reacted to consumers' privacy worries by keeping the devices' cameras and microphones off by default and giving users much more control in the settings to turn the camera and microphone off and on manually. It has also given users full control over any data Facebook collects from the Portal device. Facebook also claims that all the AI software for the microphone and camera is run locally and not on the cloud. Despite Facebook's going further than its competitors when it comes to privacy features on its smart display, it will take time for consumers to trust Facebook enough for Portal to make an impact in the market. Portal plays a role in Facebook's attempts to recapture audience time, which has been stagnant in recent years.

Telstra launches voice-activated calling service from Google Home devices

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

The Google-Telstra partnership has made progress with the launch of a new voice-activated calling service powered by Google Assistant. From now on, all Telstra mobile customers in Australia will be able to make outbound hands-free calls with any Google Home Nest speaker or display. This initiative will help Telstra enhance its service offering and value proposition for the smart home with advanced functionality similar to what Vodafone has recently launched in the UK with the introduction of inbound and outbound calling on Amazon Echo devices. The new Google Assistant calling service on smart speakers and displays will enable Google to gain ground in the smart home communications space. However, this improvement won't be enough to outpace the competition, because Google Assistant still doesn't support key communication features such as inbound calling or device-to-device calling/messaging (i.e., intercom systems) that are essential to deliver a superior user experience.

Further reading

2020 Trends to Watch: Consumer AI, CES004-000105 (September 2019)

Consumer Digital Revenue Opportunity Model, 2018–23, CES006-000087 (September 2019)

Digital Consumer Insights 2019 Analysis: Consumer Devices, CES004-000104 (October 2019)

"AI assistants working in tandem with other smart devices will set the elderly smart care market in motion," CES006-000104 (September 2019)

"Amazon Devices Event: Key Wearable Trends," CES004-000111 (September 2019)


Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Tech

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