Last year, I wrote a post that generated some noise among other media and news outlets called Apple’s Indirect Presence from CES Fades. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to, but this section is what I want to bring up again.
It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.
As I mentioned, our ability to measure any platforms ecosystem from what we observe at CES, is the main reason so many are paying attention to what is happening with Amazon’s Alexa platform. Google Assistant is certainly more present than it was last year, however, when you look at how third parties are talking about-and marketing-their support of these assistants they are putting significantly more effort into talking about Alexa than Google Assistant. Which is a telling signal. Again, to reiterate this point, third parties used to market, and spend energy talking about their integration with iOS or support of iPhone/iPad with the same rigor they are now talking about Amazon’s Alexa. This can not be ignored.
First, I want to revisit some heat I took from many saying CES is irrelevant when it comes to Apple. If anything, Apple’s collaboration with now the three largest TV companies to bring Airplay 2 (which brings some Siri support, and HomeKit to their TVs, as evidence Apple does care about the ecosystem shown here at CES. The announcement from Samsung, LG, and Vizio was a key part of the keynote where they announced and highlighted this feature during the presentation. Apple knows full well that if a broader ecosystem of appliances makers and brands starts talking more about their competitors in Google Assistant and Amazon Echo it puts them into a position of weakness from a third party ecosystem standpoint.
Now, up to this point, the most important third-party ecosystem to Apple is software developers. To a lesser degree, more so at the beginning of the iPhone era, was the ecosystem of accessory makers for iPhone. What we see now is the new important battleground of third-party support of other major brands in consumer electronics, and Apple is on new ground having to work with a much broader hardware ecosystem and fitting into another brands strategy than before.
What’s unique about this new scenario for Apple is Apple is not the central brand in the equation, per se, Apple is actually an ingredient brand to a Samsung TV, or an LG TV. The model for Apple to move their services like Siri (which is a service), iTunes movies, or Apple Music, or a future news and TV service requires a new strategy. One where Apple plays nicely with brands and products of a whole new class.
I outlined in Apple’s Service Challenge, growing their services business will require a new strategy that plays nicely with other people’s platforms and hardware. That is simply the reality.
The question was raised to me on Twitter, and even in some recent press articles on what this says about Apple TV. Well if you love Apple TV and are a loyal user fear not because Apple TV is not going away and I fully expect Apple to keep it on the roadmap. Why? Because Apple TV, like HomePod, will remain the purest experience of Apple’s integration and hardware/software/services. To put it plainly, Apple hardware will always be the best way to experience the Apple ecosystem. This is why people who value that will still buy an Apple TV or a HomePod. Apple doesn’t need to be the market leader in either category, but it just needs to exist to be the best of Apple’s integration.
An interesting point to mention is how Apple is embracing other brands platforms and hardware with core services the result may lead to making products like Apple TV and HomePod even better. Essentially, it increases competition for Apple to make the experience of Apple TV and HomePod better than other hardware integrating their services. Ultimately, this is all good for Apple customers.
Battle of the Assistants in Smart Home
While the short time I’ve already been at CES, it is already clear Apple’s ecosystem is more supported this year than last year. Which means it is safe to assume next year, even more brands and products will support HomeKit, AirPlay, and Siri. This is important for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, Siri is active on over a billion devices. Most of those are smartphones, but the smartphone is the one product consumers will have with them at all times. Being able to use the Siri in your pocket, on your wrist, or in your ears and control other products in your home is the most likely way consumers will use ambient computing. It is convenient to have products like smart speakers in rooms of the house, but I’ll argue at the end of the day those products roles are simply speakers. The best place for your ambient computing assistant is on devices you have with you all the time. This puts Siri in a potentially winning situation, so long as Apple continues to improve Siri and keep it on par with Echo and Google Assistant.
Just as Samsung, LG, and Vizio are demonstrating, that AirPlay 2 and HomeKit is now coming into its own as the standard to connect to the iPhone ecosystem, I’m sure more brands in consumer electronics will follow suit and support HomeKit as well. What I’m not sure is what happens with Alexa when Apple’s third-party support ecosystem is as robust as the Alexa ecosystem (which is inevitable). This will take time, but it will be interesting to watch how Amazon’s lead fares over the next few years.