Voice is the space to be in right now. The novelty of being able to use natural language to communicate with our devices is changing the world.
Amazon owns the market for smart speakers with its Alexa-powered Echo. First to market in 2014, Amazon entered with a strong start, seamlessly enabling ecommerce. Google, hitting the market in 2016 with Google Home, has been a worthy contender, but Apple has been slow, finally launching the HomePod in 2018. While voice technology is still in its infancy, we’re experiencing the value of these devices as we incorporate smart speakers into our daily routines and spaces.
The value is increasing, in fact, the rapid adoption of devices has been consistently exceeding forecasts. However, when I talk with people about their voice-enabled devices, privacy continues to be a major concern. Memes and Black Mirror episodes show the scary side of bringing these devices into our homes. And for valid reasons: these platforms hold an immense amount of our personal data. Facebook’s data fiasco with Cambridge Analytica has given us a glimpse of what can happen when we trust the wrong company. As widely reported, Facebook has faced a loud outcry and campaigns from its users to #deletefacebook. As a result, Facebook delayed the launch of its smart speaker and has halted new chatbots to be launched on their Messenger platform.
User’s trust in this emerging space cannot be overstated. Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked in an interview what he would do if he was Mark Zuckerberg addressing the turmoil related to its issues with user privacy. His response: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
A confident or arrogant statement? It has to come down to actions. And as of now, Apple has the track record to show that Cook’s statement likely isn’t just a bold statement but highlights the way Apple sees customers and their business is different. Apple protected users’ privacy from the FBI back in 2016. And in the fall of 2017, Apple launched a new privacy website dedicated to how it’s protecting users’ personal information as new technologies like facial recognition and machine learning make their way into the company’s products.
Apple has another thing going for it. Streaming music is the most popular daily use of smart speakers. At its core, Apple is about two things: hardware and music. And that’s been their angle, promoting the HomePod as the high-fidelity alternative to the Echo and the perfect platform for Apple Music fans (who are growing in number) to stream their music catalog.
Don’t get me wrong, Apple still has an uphill battle to be a true contender in the voice space. And while Mark Zuckerberg has unwittingly provided a helping hand, Amazon leads the race with nearly 70% of the U.S. market. But it appears Apple is well aware and according to a Bloomberg report, the company has lowered the number of Homepods being manufactured by one of its partners, Inventec Corporation. And Apple is reportedly looking to make a second smart speaker, one a bit less expensive than its current $350 offering.
For now, Tim Cook, is capitalizing on Facebook’s problems and waving the trust card as a competitive advantage. And with Apple’s cult-like following, they have an ecosystem advantage that Amazon and Google do not. Apple also has Google’s former artificial intelligence chief, who they poached earlier this month to run Apple’s machine learning and artificial intelligence strategy.
The HomePod will improve, just as the Apple Watch has. Remember, the Apple Watch faced challenges when it launched, and it is now widely recognized as the top performing smartwatch on the market. Meanwhile, Facebook has given Apple a boost by delaying the launch of its own smart speaker and casting a spotlight on a major Apple competitive advantage: respect for its customers’ privacy.