With 20 percent now having access, smart speakers have gone mainstream

Amazon has a big lead over Google, but that is expected to shrink soon

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
March 7, 2018
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The conventional wisdom is that when a piece of technology hits 20 percent of the market, it's considered to have gone mainstream. That's generally the threshold between being a new technology that only a few people are using and becoming something that everybody either has or is going to have.

In the past that technologies that have become ubiquitous have included everything from radio and television to personal computers and smartphones. Now smart speakers have reached that point as well, and in pretty quick fashion to boot.

Of the 252 million adults in the United States, 47.3 million of them, or 19.7 percent, currently have access to a smart speaker, according to a new report out from Voicebot on Wednesday.

The adoption rate 

With the first Echo coming out in late 2014, it has taken around three and a half years for smart speakers to get to 20 percent saturation. Just two years ago it was only 1 percent of the population that had access to one.

To make it clearer, having access doesn't necessarily mean that a person owns a smart speaker; it just means that someone in their house does and that they also have the ability to use it. :look at where people are putting their smart devices: it's mostly in communal parts of the house. Nearly half, 45.9 percent, put one in the living room, and 41.4 percent have one in the kitchen. Only 5.9 percent have one in the bathroom, but 36.8 percent do have one in their bedroom, so there is apparently some desire to have them in parts of the house that are not as easily accessed. 

The fact that this report focuses on access makes it a little bit hard to compare to other technologies. The closest comparison is probably another communal device, like the television, which Voicebot says took 13 years to reach the same number of people, though it is useful to remember that there were 152.3 million in the U.S., or 100 million less people, in 1950, so that was actually a higher percentage of the overall population.

It took the Internet four years to reach 50 million people, and that comparison might still be apt since, at the time, the primary device for accessing it was a personal computer, which was shared among all family members. Laptops would not become popular until the late 90s with the debut of wireless Internet for public use. 

A comparison to Facebook, which took two years to get to that number of people, doesn't mean much, however. The two technologies are too different for it to be a fair comparison.

Amazon's big lead

When people think about smart speakers, they probably have three of them in mind: either Amazon's Echo, aka Alexa; Google Home; or Microsoft's Invoke, aka Cortana. 

If you're wondering which one has captured the smart speaker audience, according to this report, the competition between the three isn't even close. Amazon controls over 70 percent of the market, with Google only getting a little over 18 percent. Microsoft, meanwhile, doesn't even register, being mixed in with the 9.7 labeled as "other."

Breaking it down further, Amazon's Echo has 35 percent of the market, while the Echo Dot, which is smaller and doesn't have a speaker equipped for listening to music, has 32.3 percent. 

Amazon's current lead in the space might have to do with timing, as Amazon debuted Alexa in November of 2014, and Google Home debuted two years later in November of 2016, giving Amazon a two year head start.

While Amazon currently has more than 3x the market share over Google, that is expected to change soon.

What's stopping people from buying

While 20 percent is a milestone for this technology, that still leave 80 percent who have not bought a smart speaker yet.

For a big chunk, nearly 40 percent, it simply comes down to disinterest. Another 21 percent said that their smartphone can do the same thing, but that would seem to mostly make up Apple users; according to this report, nearly 77 percent of iPhone users have tried Siri, but only 42.7 percent of Android users have tried to use Google Assistant.

Surprisingly, considering how often it comes up in reference to new technology, only 16 percent said they were concerned about issues of privacy in using smart speakers. 

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