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Google fails to disclose microphone in Nest Secure

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

Nest Secure is Google Nest's home security product range, consisting of a central alarm and motion sensor unit with separate window/door sensors. In the original product spec there was no mention of any microphones or sound-sensing capability. It's easy to imagine existing Nest Secure customers' surprise, therefore, when Google announced that Google Assistant would now be available through a software update, made possible by a hidden microphone. Apparently, the microphone had been laying dormant and only activated by the customer opting into this new feature. However, this still raises privacy concerns that vendors can insert hidden microphones into a device, even for future use, without the customer's knowledge. There is no evidence of vendors secretly listening in to consumers through smart devices, but with privacy advocates already on high alert about smart home devices, this type of press only adds weight to their concerns, which are quickly spreading to the general public. Google has admitted not disclosing the microphone was an error on its part, but such blunders can't continue if consumers are to fully trust this new technology.

Amazon stops selling Dash buttons

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

In 2015, Amazon introduced Dash buttons to add convenience and simplicity to the reordering process. This enabled the company to turn the home into a virtual shopping cart while helping it achieve further omnipresence as part of its smart home strategy. Now Amazon has announced it will discontinue the sale of the independent physical Dash buttons due to a shift in user behavior that has made them redundant. The company will instead focus on expanding the Dash Replenishment product line and the availability of smart devices with built-in virtual Dash buttons. Despite independent Dash buttons representing a good reordering option for non-connected devices, Amazon is now more focused on promoting the adoption of IoT devices with self-ordering capabilities. By going 100% digital, Amazon is not only eliminating the need to press a physical button to buy an item, but also removing the need for customer intervention, through more automated processes. Additionally, the shift in focus enables hands-free virtual alternatives such as Alexa voice shopping to grow and become customers' preferred choice when it comes to buying products and services.

Apple prepares to make fresh assault on smart home

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

Apple is quickly falling behind its main two rivals, Google and Amazon, in the smart home race. Its smart home platform, HomeKit, has a much smaller ecosystem than not just Google and Amazon, but also other competitors such as Samsung, and although it launched a generally well received smart speaker, it has since stood still whereas others have continued to evolve their home assistant products. However, there are now signs that Apple is getting ready to launch a fresh assault on the smart home. In February it hired Sam Jadallah, former CEO of Otto, to lead (according to CNBC) a new smart home initiative for Apple, and then more recently Apple has acquired the patent portfolio of Lighthouse AI, a failed home security camera company. Given Apple's innovation and design capabilities, together with a superior brand around data and customer privacy, it is surprising Apple has allowed itself to fall so far behind in smart home. However, there is a long way to go as yet in the development of the smart home and there is still time for Apple to make a significant impact in this market.

Samsung Bixby gets four new languages

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Up until now, Samsung's AI assistant was only able to speak US English, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese. To expand Bixby's reach in Europe, Samsung has announced the official support of UK English, German, Italian, and Spanish. The introduction of new languages, together with the support of more third-party services across Europe, will certainly help Samsung to reinforce its commitment to AI and gain ground in the European market. However, in this area Bixby still lags far behind rivals such as Google Assistant, Apple's Siri, and Amazon's Alexa. Extensive language support and country availability are key to standing out in the AI assistant race. Despite Bixby's ongoing improvements, Samsung needs to move much faster if it wants to take a leading role in the AI assistant market. The upcoming release of the Galaxy Home speaker will help Samsung to make further progress in the smart home space, but this effort will be less effective if Bixby doesn't improve rapidly its overall functionality and capacity to understand voice commands in more languages.

Xiaomi reveals new smart display home hub

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Chinese company Xiaomi has a broad range of consumer IoT devices, including smart speakers, lights, cameras, doorbells, and AC units and air purifiers, among others. Now Xiaomi has announced the expansion of its smart home ecosystem with the introduction of a new smart display intended to act as an AI-enabled central hub for the home. Following the examples of Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub, the new XiaoAi touchscreen speaker will allow users to browse, search for information, watch video feeds from smart cameras and doorbells, and play music and videos from applications such as iQiyi, Sogou, and Sina and Tencent's QQ music library. Pricing and availability are yet to be announced. Still, considering the company's well-known competitive pricing approach, Ovum expects Xiaomi's new smart display to make rapid progress in China. Moreover, the smart home portfolio expansion will help XiaoAi, Xiaomi's AI assistant, to increase its market footprint, gaining competitiveness against strong contenders such as Xiaodu/Duer (Baidu) and AliGenie (Alibaba).

Appendix

Further reading

Digital Consumer Insights 2018: Asia-Pacific, PT0147-000005 (February 2019)

"Ovum's IoT Investments Tracker highlights AI focus, software, and internet player activity," IOT001-000027 (February 2019)

Telco Services Innovation Radar: 4Q18, GLB007-000211 (February 2019)

"Amazon strengthens its position in the connected home," CES006-000063 (February 2019)

"Making AI commonplace in the home will require symbiotic relationships between devices," CES004-000075 (February 2019)

"The AirPod-rivaling Galaxy Buds headline Samsung Unpacked 2019's wearable offerings," CES004-000071 (March 2019)

"Smart home vendors must tap into what their customers think," CES006-000068 (March 2019)

Author

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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