If there is one thing that technology companies have learned during the boom of smartphones, it is that locking people up early is the difference between success and failure.
Customers are simply not willing, at least in a significant number, to leave the ecosystem in which they have invested – whether it is Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.
And so if there is a chance to be groundbreaking on a new ecosystem, a new chance to get people locked up for years, you can expect a blow.
For “voice”, generally regarded as the next major platform in technology, scrambling is going on and is seen most aggressively in a certain area: your face.
It is an area with limited real estate – you probably only have two ears and two eyes – and a loaded history of failed attempts to change technology.
“To date, the most accepted place to wear technology has been the pulse, and Apple’s success with its watch reflects this,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight.
“But while Amazon and a number of other players are becoming more serious about earplugs and smart glasses, there is increasing evidence that the” battle for the face “has begun.”
Let’s start with the ears.
Apple has built an early lead here, built on former glory: the iPhone. The AirPods, released in 2016, currently dominate the category with a 53% share of the 27 million “audible” products sold worldwide from April-June this year, according to data collected by Counterpoint Research.
“Apple continues to lead the market for the time being thanks to its loyal base of hardware users and its sticky device and software ecosystem,” said Counterpoint Research senior analyst Liz Lee.
“It will also release new earbuds with a major overhaul of the design that is expected at the end of 2020 and freshen up the market. We expect Apple’s share to be around 40% -50% this year and slightly lower next year, but nevertheless, it will be the biggest player. “
Although AirPods seems to be simply a wireless version of the headphones that Apple has been selling for ten years now, the company sees it as something much more strategic: the best way to let consumers communicate with devices through voice.
They do little to address Apple’s biggest problem right now, namely that once people get home, they are likely – if they have a smart speaker – to talk to an Amazon or Google assistant than to Siri.
Amazon’s problem is the other way around. The success of his Alexa assistant has led it to the market for smart speakers, according to Canalys research, but the disastrous attempt by the company to break into smartphones means that Alexa is usually stuck inside.
Amazon took important steps on Wednesday and hopes it will change with the announcement of Echo Buds, wireless earbuds with built-in Alexa – the easiest way to get Alexa home. The device is cheaper than AirPods – $ 129 v $ 199 – and has the added sales argument, including noise reduction, something that AirPods lacks.
“It is clear that access to Alexa may be more attractive to some people than access to Siri because Alexa can be used to order goods directly from Amazon and the Amazon ecosystem is more open than that of Apple,” said Lee.
“Amazon could also take aggressive price reductions, including offering its new gadget in Prime deals and bundles for cheap during Black Friday sales to increase market share.”
More in-ear players will appear soon. Next week, Microsoft is also expected to announce its own smart wireless earbuds. And Google, with its own assistant and a range of voice-driven software (such as automatic language translation), could offer another strong device that improves the Pixel Buds that were launched in 2017. The company is holding its hardware launch event on October 11.
The eyes have it
Amazon also hopes to turn heads – though not too fast – with Echo Frames. These are glasses with Alexa that are built into the titanium frames relatively discreetly. When paired with a smartphone, they vibrate when a notification is received and, like the Echo Pods, voice commands can be given to Alexa via two microphones.
It is seen as a modest first step towards the real goal: smart glasses with augmented reality (AR), digitally created images that have been laid over the real world.
Just as Amazon spoke of Echo Frames at the Seattle headquarters, Facebook was busy sharing its own ambitions for AR during the Oculus Connect Developer Conference in San Jose.
Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of virtual reality and AR, said the company built AR glasses. A demonstration video showed how pop-ups can appear in your vision and warn you about movie times or directions. This product is not around the corner – Facebook still has a lot of work to do to realize the technology.
And the company currently lacks a full speech assistant on its own (although it has worked on one of them as part of its Portal video chat range).
There are credible rumors that Apple is also preparing to release its own AR-portable device. According to Wired, those who put the code into Apple’s operating system, iOS, noticed that deep in recent updates was code that almost certainly seemed to be related to some sort of future AR device.
The proper functioning of these devices is only one obstacle. There are also the problems of style and trust.
You remember Google Glass, released in 2013, that besides suffering from technological shortcomings, was also stopped by the fact that the wearer looked rather foolish (no offense, Rory).
Newer technologies are bulky and cumbersome. Microsoft’s Hololens and Magic Leap’s glasses are heavy on the head or hip.
And these technologies make other people uncomfortable. A woman was famously attacked for wearing Google Glass in a bar in San Francisco.
AR glasses must use outward-facing cameras to detect objects around them, and it is likely that technology companies will consider video recording and calling as a selling point. Earplugs must capture the same amount of audio from the world around them in order to work.
The wearer can accept that, yes, but what about those around them who may not want to be caught and analyzed by companies that have already lost our trust?
That is what makes this newest technical race different. Everyone who buys these devices not only spends which company has the best technology, but also the best intentions.