Amazon Alexa is Vastly Overrated as a “Smart” Speaker
It’s not quite a chicken-or-the-egg type of scenario, but the smart speaker market is facing a reality where consumers have to decide what should come first when picking a product: search accuracy or simple shopping. At present, it turns out that they’d rather have the latter.
Of course, the two speakers that we’re talking about here are Amazon’s Echo with Alexa, and Google’s Home with Google Assistant.
A recent test run by Adweek and 360i used software to pit the two speakers against one another to determine which was the more intelligent speaker. The Voice Search Monitor (VSM) software gave each device 3,000 different questions and requests, and it scored the speakers’ ability to provide accurate information—or any information at all. The results of the survey showed that Google crushed Alexa, outperforming Amazon’s speaker roughly 6-to-1. That means, if Google nailed every one of the 3,000 questions, Alexa was able to answer only 500 of them. It’s not really that surprising given that Google is the king of search and they have massive troves of data available that Amazon simply does not. Their name has literally become the verb for searching for information on the Internet.
But when you take into account the current makeup of the smart speaker market, the grim reality of things starts to set in.
Amazon got a solid two year head start on every other tech company in the smart speaker market when they launched the Echo at the end of 2014. Since then they’ve sold well north of 10 million Echo devices. To-date, Amazon has control of 82 percent of the smart speaker market while Google has the remaining 18 percent. That’s a closer margin than it was a year ago, and the gap is expected to get a little smaller as the Apple HomePod, Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker with Cortana, and others enter the market.
But while those other speakers have a lot of catching up to do in regards to market share, it turns out that it’s Alexa who has some real catching up to do as a “smart” speaker. Which really begs the question: How overrated is Alexa?
I guess the answer to that question really depends on what exactly you’re looking for out of your smart speaker. As far as the specifics around the questions 360i served up to the two speakers, the company didn’t really divulge much. But speaking just from personal experience with the devices, Alexa is a very capable product when we’re talking about a smart home hub. It (she?) handles requests to turn on or off lights, open shades, lock doors, and more. Beyond smart home control, Alexa can play music, games, give the weather, offer sports updates, and—more importantly to Amazon—give consumers quick access to the ecommerce giant’s endless catalog of products.
From the consumer’s perspective right now that’s good enough. And we know that because of the market share figures.
But as more and more smart speakers hit the market—and as they continue to get smarter—Amazon would be wise to work to improve that head-to-head score. Just as Siri was the butt of jokes for a long time (and still is), an underperforming Alexa could lead to the demise of Amazon’s smart speaker line. And the demise of Alexa could make a dent in Amazon’s bottom line—at least one investment firm, revenue generated by the Alexa software could exceed $7 billion by 2020—$11 billion overall when sales of the speakers themselves is included.
No one wants a dumb speaker (amirite, Apple?). If the goal is to have the experience be more conversational, it's going to be important for smart speaker manufacturers to ensure these speakers can handle basic requests. And that goes beyond being able to spit back an answer to some random internet search. It really has to do with being able to take in, analyze, and process what's being said by the user—no matter the phrasing, accent, tone, etc.—and be able to quickly give the right information or perform the proper task.
End of story.