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Amazon’s Stranglehold On The Smart-Speaker Biz

A trio of new reports confirms what we kinda already know: that voice control is the happening new user interface, and that smart wireless speakers from Amazon are the dominant domicile for virtual digital assistants.

According to new numbers from market research consultancy Parks Associates, the category, led by Amazon’s Echo, Dot and Tap, has already penetrated upward of 11 percent of U.S. broadband households, while projections call for annual sales in excess of 50 million units by 2020.

This year, the market for smart speakers is expected to grow roughly 60 percent, the firm noted.

“Consumer interest in voice-based technologies has surged across many areas of connected living as a preferred consumer interface,” said Parks research analyst Dina Abdelrazik. “Voice is now vying to be the default method for consumer interaction with all connected products.”

Driving that adoption are Amazon (with Alexa), Apple (through Siri), Google (with Google Now), Microsoft (employing Cortana) and now Samsung (with Bixby), which themselves are vying for virtual-assistant dominance.

So far Amazon is clearly winning the first round, with 70.6 percent of smart speaker users barking their orders into an Echo, according to research firm eMarketer. Google trails with 23.8 percent of the market, with the balance shared by smaller players including Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and even Mattel.

Echo’s growth and popularity was confirmed by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), which found that 10.7 million U.S. Amazon customers currently own an Echo family device – more than triple the install base last year – and that sales reached 2.5 million units in the first quarter alone, driven by demand for the diminutive and aggressively priced Dot.

But Amazon may also be winning the war. eMarketer projects that despite some share growth by Google, Alexa will remain the dominant digital-assistant platform for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, as a rising tide lifts all boats, the overall virtual assistant category is expected to grow 23.1 percent this year, as 35.6 million Americans begin using a voice-enabled speaker at least once a month, representing a 129 percent increase in usage.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology, which is driving engagement,” said forecasting VP Martín Utreras. “Also, as prices decrease and functionality increases, consumers are finding more reasons to increase adoption of these devices.”

The heaviest users of virtual assistants are older millennials, aged 25 to 34, one-third of whom will access the technology this year. Representing 26.3 percent of all virtual assistant users, this segment has become the core user cohort, due mainly to its “demand for functionality over entertainment,” Utreras said.