If the Alphabet (Google) Assistant is better, it has a long ways to go to lock up the market and it may yet lose it. That's the conclusion of Edison Investment Research analyst Richard Windsor in a report issued yesterday, Battle of the Home, Part II.
The report's overall conclusion is positive for the Google Assistant: "Google has the advantage, as it has by far the better product," but if developers start adopting Alexa as their preferred voice interface on smart home devices, then the game will quickly be lost (by Google)," he wrote.
The battle for the smart virtual assistant in the consumer's home is still being played out. Google and Amazon are the main contestants, with Apple's Siri interface and Microsoft's Cortana interface trailing far behind. Google acquired the smart home device company, Nest, in January 2014 and introduced the Google Home voice-activated speaker on Oct. 4, 2016, powered by the voice-activated Assistant system. Amazon Echo came out five years earlier.
Despite his nod to the superiority of Google Home, Windsor also invoked the case of Betamax, a tape recording technology that that was backed by Sony but still lost out to JCR's VHS recording format. VHS won favor as a means to distribute movies because it could contain two-hours of content to Betamax' one. As VHS gained favor in movie packaging, it also gained a edge with consumers and came to dominate the market.
Windsor said an outside review of Assistant and Alexa by the digital test agency, 360i, applied a proprietary software test, asking each device 3,000 questions and assessing the accuracy of the answers. "While there is no hard data yet, 360i has said that the initial indication is that for any question, Google is six times more likely to come up with the right answer compared to Amazon Alexa," he wrote.
The outcome reflected Edison's own, unscientific test of giving people the Amazon and Google products and asking them to use them side by side for four days. "Every person asked to live with Amazon and Google expressed a strong preference for Google Assistant," Windsor wrote.
Those might seem like odds in favor of Assistant. But that overlooks the fact that Alexa was in use in an estimated 10.7 million households in May, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, as cited by Geekwire. That figure was up from only 5.1 million last November. The numbers include some Amazon tablets and phones but are the vast majority are Echo speakers. No number for installed Google Home devices was cited.
Also, Amazon keeps improving the way customers can use the Echo, announcing a touchscreen version of the device on May 8. Among other things, it can be connected as a control mechanism to other home smart devices and carry out voice commands, such as to turn on or turn off the lights.
Google promotes Home as the more sensitive and cognizant device with its Assistant voice translator: "Home can distinguish your voice from others in your home, so when you say 'call mom,' we’ll call your mom," it says on its Web site. In an update of a previous review, Cnet said May 25 that the improved Google Home now represented "some serious competition" for Echo.
Amazon has 70% of the digital home assistant market, followed by Google withy 24%, according to Investor's Business Daily, citing eMarketer.
Google's strategy, said Windsor, is to encourage more developers to focus on using the Assistant voice interface rather than on promoting a Home device. That approach should allow Google to encourage developers writing for Android devices to make greater use of Assistant through a familiar API interface.
But Google is lagging behind Amazon on a crucial front, said Windsor. "[The] Smart home is Google's to lose… The problem is reflected all the way through the entire smart home ecosystem where every smart device one can think of works with Amazon Alexa but only a small proportion work with Google Assistant."
Google should have an advantage in appealing to developers, given its experience is successfully cultivating a huge base of Android phone and smart device programmers. But Amazon has shown its own skill at cultivating developers in the way it's managed Alexa.
Nevertheless, Windsor still gave the edge to Google. The 360i tests show such a contrast in abilities in voice recognition that "Google will still beat Alexa hands down once the real data has been scrutinized and published," he claimed.
Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio
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