Amazon owns the AI-enabled connected home device market but whether or not it can hold its position at the top is not something it can afford to take for granted. The company has released wave after wave of devices with Alexa built in, filling various niches, and leaving competitors little time to create any competition in the space, with one notable exception. It almost goes without saying that the competitor in question here is Google, which has been slowly unveiling and launching its own lineup of smart home accessories. With consideration for Amazon's most recent string of reveals and the lead it already has in the industry, it may not actually be possible for Google to catch up at all. The search giant does have a new event planned for October 4 and is expected to announce even more connected home devices at that event, so it isn't an impossibility. Having said that, there's no guarantee those efforts will be nearly enough.
To begin with, Amazon's most recent reveals have centered entirely on the company's Alexa-powered Echo devices. Among those announced were a new, small-form-factor speaker with a screen, camera, and microphone called the Echo Spot. In effect, Spot is a scaled-down version of the Echo Show the company unveiled earlier this year. Beyond that, the company revealed a second generation of its Echo device in two variant – the Echo and Echo Plus. The second generation of Echo has been taken down in terms of size but maintains its predecessor's functionality and performance. The Echo Plus brings further improvements in a larger form-factor, including the ability to automatically discover and set up other connected smart devices. Amazon took things beyond connected speakers with its announcement as well, unveiling Echo Connect, Echo Buttons, and Amazon Fire TV 4K. Echo Connect is a go-between for a traditional landline phone and Echo – effectively adding smart functionality to a home phone. Echo Buttons also connect to Echo devices and provide another way for users to interact through those. One example Amazon has provided includes their use as a way to play games through Echo, with the buttons acting as buzzers for participating players. Finally, the new Amazon Fire TV 4K is an HDMI dongle which, as its name implies, supports 4K media playback. It also supports HDR and Dolby Atmos Audio technologies.
Google's answer to these devices has, in the meantime, been relatively muted. The company essentially has 3 responding devices. First, its Chromecast devices are direct competitors to Amazon's Fire TV devices. However, the competing devices differ in how they actually work. While Amazon's devices supply streaming applications, Chromecast allows users to stream content directly from their own smartphones over a network connection. Google has a clear advantage in that its devices also, by proxy, support more than just music or videos. Furthermore, the company has both HD and 4K Chromecast options available for consumers. With that said, both companies offer the vast majority services on offer from the major players in that market. Moreover, Amazon's Fire TV doesn't require users to have their smartphone handy in order to take advantage of its voice controls or features. Meanwhile, Google has a kind of solution to that through its Google Home devices, which do not necessarily require a handset to be connected and can interact with the Chromecast. That also means users have to own both devices if they want that same kind of functionality from Google. There are also differences between Google Home and Echo, as well. Specifically, Alexa utilizes user-enabled "Skills" to interact with users, while Google Assistant mostly draws its responses to interaction directly from the cloud. Both devices have similar functions in terms of controlling connected devices, setting reminders, and more.
Meanwhile, Google has had no answer at all to Amazon's Echo Show or to the newly announced Echo Spot. The company is speculated to be announcing a brand new device to compete in that sector at tomorrow's event. The company is also expected to unveil new Google Home-branded devices which would be more or less on par with Amazon's smaller second generation Echo or its Echo Dot devices. Unfortunately, whether or not that happens remains to be seen and rumors surrounding such events don't always turn out to be based in reality. Beyond that, there's no way of knowing how well the devices will sell well enough for Google to shift a worthwhile amount of the market share away from Amazon. Amazon's market share, in the meantime, sits at around 75 to 80 percent as of the last official accounting. There is very little room for error in terms of technological improvements or marketing for any new devices Google does offer to customers.
It is important to point out that the news isn't all bad for Google, either. The company has years of search engine and advertising experience to draw from and time spent largely in control of the smartphone market also provides Google with insight into what users respond well to. That experience also gives Google an advantage in terms of collecting actionable data and in the creation of methods for turning that data into contextually relevant information for those users. That's at least one area where Google is clearly ahead of the game. Moreover, the fact that its A.I. – Google Assistant – exists on so many smartphones and other devices means Google has another advantage in just how well its cross-platform ecosystem has managed to saturate the technology sphere in general. Amazon is still filling its own ecosystem out for its Echo hardware, effectively from the ground up. Alexa is also not currently available for very many smartphones, which certainly outnumber connected home devices in terms of overall sales.
The reality of the situation is that the entire connected home market is still in its infancy, as compared to the length of time other technologies have been around. So the market could move in a way that's favorable for Google – or for any other company driven to be highly innovative, for that matter – in a very short period of time. Amazon's lead in the space could also simply be down to how quickly the company brought its devices to market and its current position is not a guarantee of continued dominance.