There are new technologies that let us have information using only our voice. We can call them Voice Assistants or Intelligent Personal Assistants. All the big players in the tech world have its system. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google. Here I will talk about the marketing differences and the strategy in each case.
I do not focus on the technology only. That is something that changes fast. Everybody copies each other and end up with similar technical solutions. It is just a matter of time. What is relevant is the marketing positioning. What concepts make them unique.
Voice Assistant, the new search engine
Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are dependent on Google Search. At the same time, they compete in other fields. The four big ones desperately need something new to substitute Google search.
The personal voice assistant could be the new way to search. At the same time, it can do much more; it can play music, manage everyday tasks and connect with other devices.
We are only at the beginning. It is far from being as efficient as writing a query in the Google search box, but it is improving fast.
Amazon always had a search engine. When people want to buy anything, Amazon.com is the easiest way to find it. So, in a certain way, Amazon.com is a search engine. It competes with Google Search, but only in a category of products: physical things you want to buy. With Echo, Amazon makes a step towards more.
The Echo is a speaker you control with your voice. It plays music and provides information. It is always on, that's what made it unique when it launched. It is not only a technical achievement; it is a different marketing approach. The intelligent personal assistant is a new area for Amazon. They enter specializing in a segment. It is a speaker, it is at home, and it is always listening. That makes them different from the previous offer.
That first move was brilliant. What will be interesting to see is how Amazon will make it evolve.
It is clear that everybody will copy everybody's technology. Google, Microsoft, and Apple have already copied Amazon and made a speaker that is always on.
Amazon is an ambitious company. Being the leader of a segment will not be enough for them. They are always seeking growth. How will Amazon evolve? By now, Echo only answers questions in English. Adding new languages is the next logical step. On the other hand, can it be in places other than home? If Amazon does that, could they keep any competitive advantage?
The first step to leaving home is the Amazon Tap. It is a speaker with a battery. It is a bit smaller than the Echo, and it is water resistant. You need to tap a button to ask a question. It cannot always be listening; it would run out of battery soon. It is a voice assistant and a speaker, a specialized product, different than the others.
Amazon also has the Echo Dot. It is like the Echo but with a smaller speaker and lower price. You can connect to your existing speakers. The next is the Echo Look with a camera and the Echo Show with a screen.
Specializing, Amazon could enter with success in a competitive market. I am not sure if they could maintain its differentiation for a long time.
Google needed to catch up. They come up with their version of a voice service. In a certain way, it could cannibalize its own conventional search business. In any case, they have no other option. The competition is already there.
In Google IO, May 18/2016 they presented Google Home. Sundar Pichai CEO of Google said: "Credit to the team of Amazon to bring a lot of excitement in the space. We will be thinking about our unique approach, and we are getting ready to launch something later this year."
Google Home’s competitive advantage is that it has search built in. There is no question that they have years of experience answering questions. At the same time, this is a new game, a new category. Search is only a part of it. The other big players came first. Now they have some advantages, some points where they are stronger than Google.
It is remarkable to notice the name, "Home." In the presentation, they say "it is an assistant for the whole family." What about the people who live alone? Some have a family but pass most of their time in their room. What about the work, or community places like the bar, the gym, and others? Why are they limiting themselves to Home and family? Is it a technical question or a marketing decision?
Google Home is the speaker. It seems that the Ai system that powers Google Home is now called only Google or Google Assistant. The relation and names are still confusing.
On October 4, 2016, Google announced its new phone. Google Pixel has the Google Assistant as a core feature. That is its substantial advantage. The new phone is expensive. It wants to compete in the same price range that Apple.
The Search is the principal revenue source for Google. The Intelligent Personal Assistants are the logical successors. We can anticipate that Google will not be the only player anymore. At least, he will have to share the market.
The voice assistants are not ideal for housing ads, the income source for Google. The competitors have other revenue models. Apple, for instance, makes money selling their hardware. They give Siri for free, as part of the Apple ecosystem.
How will Google compete in this new environment? It is hard to predict. What seems clear is that its monopoly is coming to an end.
The voice assistant is in computers. What is unique in Microsoft is that it is in the game console too.
Cortana in Windows Phone is always on. I am not sure if it is an advantage as it consumes the battery.
Microsoft partnered with Harman Kardon to make a speaker that is always on. They call it Invoke. It can play music, make Skype calls and control smart home devices. Its emphasis is in the quality of the sound. (That is precisely where Amazon Echo could improve). Remember that Samsung acquired Harman Kardon.
That's the same positioning that the Apple Voice assistant. They will launch at the end of 2017. The marketing strategy seems similar. We will need to wait to see the differences.
Siri is on the Mac. They announced that at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2016/6/16. It is a conference held every year in California by Apple Inc. Next year, WWDC 2017/6/5 they presented the HomePod. Like the others, it is a speaker that is always listening.
They say that what makes it unique is the quality of the sound. Microsoft Invoke appeared a few months before with a similar strategy. Apple has the advantage to have iTunes. The integration with the music catalog and the specialization with music seems to be a sound differentiator.
Amazon Echo, Google Home, Microsoft Invoke and Apple HomePod are always listening. That is something new and attractive. It is comfortable if you have your hands occupied or you are some feet away from the device. However, it has some problems too. That can be scary and has security implications. Do you want to have one of those powerful companies at home always hearing and recording you?
Siri is everywhere you are. It is a big difference, a significant competitive advantage. Siri is in the living room, in the kitchen, in the kids’ room, in the office, on the go, in the gym. They have a strong position with the MacBook and the iMacs and even the Mac Pro. The iPad has no significant competition with tablets. Apple is also the leader in the smart watches segment. Apple is the only company that has a device for each situation.
The key point is that the user needs to press a button to ask a question to Siri. The HomePod is the only Apple product that is always listening.
Amazon, by now, centers its action at home. Google has phones, watches, and Google Home. They have Chrome computers, but they are almost impossible to use in a work environment. Work is the place most of the population are 80% of the time. They do not have a firm position with the tablets either. Microsoft has computers, but they have almost given up on phone, tablets, and watches.
To be always listening consumes the battery. So, it is challenging to apply to a mobile device. Amazon first and then Google and Microsoft came with a speaker connected to the grid. Apple already has many devices plugged in that have a built-in speaker. They are at home and work. Making the Macintosh answer without the need to push any buttons could be a small revolution. Apple users would not need to buy any extra devices.
By now, it is technically impossible to make the computers, tablets, and phones hear all the time. They cannot answer only with the voice. However, they could solve that in the future. Meantime a specialized device makes sense.
The Apple advantage is the ecosystem, and that is sustainable over time. Competitors cannot match it easily.
Learn and apply
It is not only the story of some big tech companies fighting each other. The appearance of the voice assistant has grave implications for small firms and individuals.
It will be a new way to access information. We will be able to ask anything, anywhere. It will be comfortable at home but can change many things at work.
The disappearance of Google Search could be dramatic for Google and Alphabet. It is also relevant for small business. By now, it is the number one advertising platform of Internet. It is a way that companies have to communicate with potential customers. The end of Google search as we know it could leave the door open to the number two in the ad game: Facebook.
The voice assistants are a new way to get information. They could substitute search engines in the future. They satisfy the same need, solve similar problems. By now, they have limitations, but they are improving fast.
Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are competing in this field. They copy each other technology, but they have different marketing strategies.
Apple Siri is wherever you are. The user needs to tap a button to activate it on many devices. Security and coordination between devices are a priority. In the home speaker field, the advantage is the specialization in music: the quality of the sound and the integration with iTunes.
Amazon Echo is only at home. They created the category and are the first that have a version with a camera and another one with a screen.
Google has experience in search. They take advantage of processing the information in the cloud. Some people do not like to give them their private information.
Microsoft tries to be everywhere but, by now, only excels in games.
Similar technologies, different marketing strategies.
This post is part of a series dedicated to Voice Assistants. You can also call them Virtual Personal Assistants. You can read each part independently: