So goes the economic history of consumer computing. The first battle, known as the computer race, was won a few decades ago by the PC and Microsoft. The second step, that of mobility, saw Apple garnered record profits and Google gain market shares. And here opens a new place of confrontation, with the speakers connected, that of the digitization of the home. The games are very open according to analyst Stratchery.
The first warning shot came from Amazon three weeks ago. Arrive a new high-end Echo Plus, the Echo Dots, several Echo ecosystem devices including speakers, and a revamped Echo Show. But that's not all. The company also announced a microwave, a wall clock, smart plugs, a device for the car, and a TV / DVR tuner. All with Alexa embedded.
Then came Facebook. This week the company launched Portal, a video chat feature that tracks faces, integrates Alexa, and some third-party apps like Spotify. The launch of the device would have been delayed last spring while the company was struggling with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Lack of luck, it was launched in the midst of a data exposure scandal. Success will come from the story of the actors
Then comes Google. The company has announced the Google Home Hub – a Google Home with a screen, a device that looks like the Echo Show – as well as the Pixel 3 phone and the Pixel Slate – and a much more tenuous integration between Nest home products and the Google Home ecosystem.
And, of course, there is Apple. Apple launched HomePod earlier this year, and added some new features with a software update last month.
Each of these companies brings strengths, weaknesses, marketing strategies and different business models in this fight for digital home control. And the strengths of each of these companies in this fight are closely related to their success in other areas.
Amazon is no longer content to be the voice assistant of third-party devices. Amazon was the first actor to position itself on this ground. Thanks to the Fire mobile phone oven, the company had the freedom to imagine what a connected home might look like. This led him to launch the Echo speaker and Alexa assistant late 2014.
The strength of Echo: its success does not depend on the integration of hardware and software, whose complexity is unthinkable for a service company like Amazon. What is targeted here is the integration of equipment and services.
On the other hand, Amazon's goal of increasing its dominance over purchases made and consumed at home makes Alexa a strategic lever for the company. Consequence: Alexa Amazon has become a kind of operating system for the home, and today Alexa has more than 30,000 skills and is integrated into 20,000 devices.
And this makes Amazon's recent announcements much more interesting: Amazon does not just be the voice assistant for third-party devices. He also manufactures these devices, live. Why such a strategy? Just as Amazon.com is both a market and a channel for Amazon to sell its own products, Alexa is both a necessary component of third-party devices and an Amazon device engine. Conclusion: the company offers a fully integrated system, without having to rely on anyone in its race to success. Google has made up for its delay
Google has fallen far behind him to answer Alexa. The first Google Home was announced in May 2016, and was not delivered until November 2016, two years after the Echo. The company has long been locked in the paradigm of the smartphone. Nest and the mobile app has long been the proposed solution for the digital home market, until Alexa shows that it was not the right way.
Google has, however, begun to catch up. With a simple logic. If the success of a home appliance is measured by the integration of equipment and services, then the best service company would be very well placed to succeed.
Google is far behind Amazon in terms of actions and skills, as well as devices that ship its management system (respectively about 2,000 and over 5,000). But Google Home is catching up.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Google event this week is the way Google relies on its own services to sell its devices. Not only does the company tout Google Assistant, but it has also highlighted YouTube, especially in the context of the Google Home Hub. Google also includes six months of YouTube Premium with a Google Home Hub.Apple, the iconoclast, always
On the Apple side, the HomePod is exactly what you expect from Apple. Either the best material at the best price. The HomePod is also – as you might expect from Apple – locked into the Apple ecosystem. It is from a certain point of view a weakness. But it's a strength too and the reality is that people are more attached to their iPhone – and therefore to the Apple ecosystem – than they are to connected speakers. Which means that for many customers this limitation is a strength.
In this sense, Apple is clearly the most attractive option from the point of view of privacy: the company does not sell advertising, has made privacy a priority, and so is the only choice for those who are nervous about having a microphone connected to the Internet in their home. The most daring bet for Facebook
For Facebook, the most convincing argument in favor of Portal may be historical. Historically, the PC has created the conditions for the Internet, which has made smartphones so compelling. And smartphones have created the conditions necessary for social networks (including messaging) to infiltrate all aspects of everyday life.
It may well be that just as the Internet has unleashed the potential of mobile, social networks can unleash the potential of digital homes. This seems to be in any case the bet of Facebook. Of course, the device has some neat hardware features, especially the ability to follow you in the room or zoom out during a call. But such features can be copied. If Portal is a success for Facebook, it will be because the link with Facebook's social network makes this device compelling.