Thinking About Google’s Smart Home Comeuppance (Premium)

New data from Canalys claims that Google smart speaker sales plummeted 40 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, sales of Amazon Alexa-based smart speakers surged 65 percent. Is the search giant quietly losing yet another market to a faster-moving rival?

In a word, yes. That does appear to be the case.

“The global smart speaker market grew 44.9 percent to reach 28.6 million units in Q3 2019,” Canalys writes in its latest report. “Amazon pulled ahead of the pack by shipping 10.4 million smart speakers … Google slipped from third in Q2 to fourth as the company advanced its Nest brand.”

And it’s not just smart speakers: With smart display sales surging in the quarter by 500 percent to 6.3 million units in the quarter, Amazon has another (very related) market to dominate, at least outside of China: The firm sold 2.2 million units, compared to just 0.7 million units for Google. So here, again, we see Google hitting at about one-third the size of Amazon. (China-based Baidu had roughly the same smart display sales as did Amazon in the quarter, Canalys says.)

So now I’m wondering if this is the new normal, and it’s not like the holiday season---an obvious strong period for Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer---is going to see any changes in Google’s favor. Perhaps Google is destined to control just one-third of the market that Amazon does. Or even less.

Amazon’s exposure to customers is part of Google’s problem, of course. But Google is part of the problem, too. It just doesn’t move decisively enough.

I wrote about my misgivings with Google’s smart home strategy last week: Where Amazon seems to unleash a tsunami of Alexa-based products and services each year, Google always responds with just a smattering of new products and, in many cases, by ignoring or not updating previously-announced offerings.

Google’s not alone: Apple and Samsung, the other two major personal assistant makers, can’t seem to get out of their own ways in this market. Apple has released exactly one smart speaker, the horribly over-priced HomePod, and Samsung has announced but not ever released its own competitor. Microsoft, an also-ran, shipped exactly one smart speaker, too, though that product never took off for obvious reasons.

But Google is … well, Google. This is their market to lose, and they seem to be doing a stunning job of doing just that. Excusing its performance, as Canlys seems to be doing by noting that the firm spent much of 2019 “advancing its Nest brand,” is wrong-headed: Google’s Nest brand should literally be advancing its fortunes in this market. And it’s not.

My own embrace of Google smart home technology was based on pragmatic reasons. And I’m sure the firm will remain a major, albeit secondary, player in this market. But we very infrequently use any of the speakers’ (or displays’) “smart” features. We just care about music, or other audio, like podcasts and audiobooks. ...

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