Voice Technology as Game Changer
The competition in the Internet has reached a point where the favorites are very clear:
Let’s start with Apple. No doubt, Siri is the world’s most widely used digital assistant, processing billions of requests per months. She speaks dozens of languages. That’s the good news. The bad news is that by not pushing Siri forward in the ways that her creators envisioned, Apple has made her les capable than she might otherwise be. Many tech reviewers have turned on Siri, who, fairly or not, has become the punching bag of voice Artificial Intelligence. Siri is “embarrassing’ (Washington post), “…biggest missed opportunity” (Houston Chronicle), “bumbling and inadequate” (New York Times). Tech analyst Jeremiah Owyang said once that “… Apple has given up entirely on Siri.”
That’s an overstatement, not least because in the spring of 2018, the electronic giant snared one of the most coveted hires in Silicon Valley to oversee Siri and machine learning – John Giannandrea, the former head of search and artificial intelligence at Google. And it’s worth noting Siri’s improvements; according to one study, she is second only to the Assistant in her ability to answer questions correctly.
But we must admit that it may be just fair to talk in harsh terms about a company, which used to be a leader in voice Artificial Intelligence, as it has fallen behind. Let’s remind you that Apple didn’t release its smart speaker, known as HomePod, until February 2018, which was nearly a year and half after the glorious debut of Google Home. Even more, the release was three and a half years father the Amazon Echo. Let’s also remind you that most reviewers praised the HomePod sound quality but doubted if people would pay $349 (price at the time of the launch) versus $99 for an Echo. Many critics dinged Siri for working poorly on the device. By June 2018, the HomePod had eased out only a 4 percent share of the U.S. market for smart home speakers.
Steve Jobs’ child approach is to be tied to the fact that the company is first and foremost a device maker. As such, the company positions Siri as a great feature on those devices but not as the product being sold. But if you predict, as Google and Amazon do, that computing is going ambient, the voice poses at least some risk to Apple. In a world where brainily Artificial Intelligences live in the cloud and speak through expensive commodity goods, Apple, which sells premium-priced gadgets, looks substantially weaker than it does today.
Now, let’s consider Microsoft. The company has a world-class Artificial Intelligence division staffed by around ten thousand employees. Microsoft has Bing, a robust search engine, to bolster its question-answering smarts in voice. Microsoft has a well-established virtual assistant called Cortana.
But Microsoft struggles to get its conversational technology in front of consumers. Chat-bots are available on Skype and Bing, but neither platform is nearly as popular as Google or Messenger. Cortana was also available on the Windows Phone, but, with a market share that never climbed out of the low single digits, the device was discontinued as early as in 2017. On the smart speaker front, the market share of the Cortana-equipped Harman Kardon Invoke is so small as to be virtually unmeasurable. Developers, not wanting to create voice applications only to see the languish on an unpopular platform, have mostly shunned Cortana.
Despite all this, Microsoft hasn’t give up. Cortana is accessible via the Windows OS and has more than 150 millions active users monthly. Today, rather than selling Cortana as an all-things-to-all-people Artificial Intelligence, the company pitches Cortana as a workplace assistant. This entirely fits into Microsoft’s overall corporate strategy: that of providing software and cloud-based services to businesses, with AI-backed voice technology as one of them. So even if Microsoft isn’t an overall front runner with voice, the company is well positioned to be a solid contender in the enterprise realm.
Let’s say, Facebook is the wild card. If te rest of the world does follow the model of countries like China, where WeChat is effectively the internet for a billion consumers, then Facebook is in good shape, having solidly established bots on its Messenger. But it’s not yet clear that this will be the case. In fact, beyond Messenger, Facebook does extensive conversational-AI research but has mostly remained on the sidelines in terms of implementing it. Note that in October 2018 Facebook unveiled a voice-controlled smart screen device with full Alexa compatibility. So for now, Facebook gets a rather incomplete grade.
Google AI vs. Amazon AI
In 2019, Amazon captures more than 60 percent of the smart home speaker market in North America. Google has less than 20 percent of the market. Both the companies are still trying on figuring out the best way to attract users and win them forever, in a manner of speaking. Once they have users, the payoff will follow. Who wins in this battle, is not yet clear, but the winner will ultimately have infinite ways to make the fortune with voice technology.
Obviously, Google and Amazon are considering path to monetization even using the existing AI devices, such as Home or Echo. But it seems, neither company is interested in this option as each keeps prices low to bolster market share. Advertising is a good option for Google, as well as for Amazon, as they both could remunerate people who listen to the adds which would play before or after a voice assistant’s utterances (so far the do not use these tactics). For now, it seems that voice ads wouldn’t generate good revenues, but who knows…
Google’s ad-based model – the way that it has always generated the overwhelming bulk of its profits – is predicated on people spending time combing through search results. But with the visible shift to mobile devices, customers have been devoting less time to mucking around with pages of results. And reduced advertising exposure will accelerate with voice.
Anyway, Google may be placed as an ideal company to monetize voice-controlled search.
The situation benefits Amazon, as the best opportunity for monetizing voice technology is shopping. Today people using Alexa device spend up to 70 percent more annually on Amazon purchases than the average consumer. From now on, customers can order things by voice, and all market researches project that voice shopping will increase from the current less than two billion dollars per year to 40 or may by 50 billion a year by 2022. Well, for now Amazon avoids talking about such possibilities as allowing sponsored voice listings.
Today both Google and Amazon are improving in voice, and their smart home devices outsell the competitor in one period of time and incline in an other. Both have considerable advantages in market share and in options for monetization, so it’s impossible to predict who will win the race.
Let’s say in conclusion that altogether, the traditional business model may be wiped out when dozens of millions start doing voice searches. One conclusion is obvious: voice technology will finally make devices and all the machines more like us. Or it seems so.
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- Artificial intelligence in smartphones — why do we need it? – iGotOffer
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Google, Amazon bet big on voice technology [Video]
Video uploaded by CBC News: The National on January 11, 2018