The rise of Amazon’s Echo speaker has been well documented in recent years, culminating Echo selling more units worldwide in 2017 than Amazon Fire tablets – just. With almost 20 million units sold worldwide during 2017, Echo’s installed base stood at 28 million by the end of the year, marginally ahead of Fire tablets at 27 million, with Fire TV also close behind, at 26 million.
The closeness of these installed bases highlights that, despite the hype surrounding Echo, Amazon isn’t focusing all its device efforts on its smart speakers. The Alexa voice assistant is now also standard on its Fire TVs and tablets and last week’s announcement of the Fire TV Cube is the latest development in the Seattle-based firm’s multi-device strategy to position itself as the key “Go-to” facilitator in the smart home. Futuresource’s Smart Speaker tracker also highlights that, whilst Amazon is the category leader globally, Echo sales are still heavily skewed towards the USA – with only 13% of its 2017 sales derived from elsewhere. As a result, Fire tablets outsold Echo speakers internationally in 2017 by a ratio of over 4 to 1. Despite its strong position therefore in the USA (with UK a distant second), Amazon has much work to do in order to become the same driving force internationally.
Its device push is partly facilitated by the strength of Amazon Prime (over 40% of its global Prime Members are outside of the USA). We at Futuresource have been providing clients with insights into the growing influence of Amazon in the entertainment space in recent years and charting progress of its bid to become central to the living room entertainment experience in particular – through both its own-branded services and through controlling third party apps. Its boldness and risk-taking in both consumer technology and the media space is further emphasised by its recent Premier League rights deal in the UK, where there are now over 7 million Prime members. This was an expected step, but unusual for Amazon given it is a UK-only deal.
Its wider in-home strategy continues to be more developed in the USA, recently focusing on home security through its dedicated “home services” division. This drive to create an installed base of voice activated devices around the home will not only fuel e-commerce sales and Amazon Prime subscriptions but also serve to build up use of third party smart home applications and potentially position Alexa at the core of the home entertainment hub. Amazon Alexa is now able to facilitate the control of more than 4,000 smart home devices from 1,200 unique brands.
Amazon’s in-home influence goes well beyond the living room. The most popular location for the Echo is the kitchen, where it offers cooking assistance such as recipes and timers. Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API enables manufacturers such as Whirlpool, GE Appliances, LG, and Samsung to integrate Alexa’s capabilities into their smart kitchen appliances. Amazon is directly investing in this area with its venture capital arm, Alexa Fund, providing financing to smart oven manufacturer June Life.
Amazon’s pace of innovation continues to impress, but it will continue to encounter challenges. According to the 2018 edition of Futuresource Consulting’s “Smart Home Devices & Appliances” consumer survey, 38% of non-adopters of smart speakers “can’t see a use for smart home devices”, with a third citing privacy concerns. While Amazon has stolen a march on the competition it needs to continue to build use cases and - perhaps more importantly - address consumers’ fear of having a device in their homes which eavesdrop upon their conversations. Apple’s focus on tackling similar issues at the WWDC event last week was telling. Amazon may well need to prioritise such consumer concerns if it is to ultimately achieve success in the smart home in the wider international markets.
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