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The next platform war: voice assistants

Posted by Afam Okoh on 25th July 2018

When Amazon’s Echo was first launched in 2014 it was largely mocked for being a wonky and awkward product. At the time even Amazon viewed the device as an experiment not expecting it to be a product that would eventually sell in the millions. Four years later and it has in many ways become the centre of smart homes and one of the internet of things’ most successful symbols.

Alexa is now available on multiple hardware devices from cars to call centres and is aiming to become the ubiquitous disembodied voice running our lives. What makes Alexa so fascinating is not only the popularity of the voice assistant but also how widespread it is, often new technologies tend to be adopted almost exclusively by younger consumers. However in the case of Alexa the ease of using it has led to a significant take up among the older generation.

The Echo’s success did not go unnoticed. Google launched the Google Assistant in 2016, which has since been rapidly gaining market share. Microsoft also launched Cortana for Windows and Siri has been integrated into iOS since 2011. Apple, while first to launch a virtual assistant, only released the HomePod in 2017. Unfortunately for Apple, many of its efforts are held back by Siri simply being worse at voice  recognition than its competitors. Despite this Apple has Siri on over 700 million devices and is in no way out of the competition.

After Microsoft’s experience versus Apple and Google in the mid 2000s many of the large tech companies are extremely wary of being disrupted by the next technological frontier. The big four are competing to organise our lives via voice assistants, giving them unprecedented access to valuable consumer data. It is difficult to predict which voice assistants will eventually dominate the world, but we can expect to see the battle of the virtual assistants become ever more intense.


Afam Okoh

After graduating from Durham University where he read PPE, Afam worked in parliament for an MP, moved to a tech startup and then cofounded a charity. Here he gained experience in communicating with the media, understanding technology and writing clear copy. He spends much of his free time listening to interesting podcasts or buried in a book. These can vary from biographies of historic figures to texts exploring technology and society.