Getting Smart About Smart Speakers

Timing, as they say, is everything. Particularly if you’ve got something to add to an already hot topic that’s reaching fever peak levels this week.

I’m talking, of course, about smart speakers, such as Amazon’s expanding Echo line of products, Google’s Home, the unusual C by GE Sol smart lamp, and the new Microsoft-driven Invoke coming from Harman Kardon, which is now a division of Samsung.

Having just fielded, a little more than a week ago, a brand new TECHnalysis Research study to 1,000 US consumers who own at least some smart home devices, I have some very fresh data to inject into the conversation.
To set the stage, it’s interesting to note that about ¼ of US households now have at least one piece of smart home gear in their possession, according to the study. From smart light bulbs and connected door locks, to home security cameras and beyond, it appears that the smart home phenomenon is finally moving into the mainstream.

Much of that reach, it turns out, is due to recent purchases of smart speakers. In fact, the category is by far the most popular smart home device now in use, with 56% of those smart households reporting that they own and use a smart speaker, and 60% of those purchases occurring in the last six months. (Smart thermostats were the second most common device at 44%, with smart light bulbs third at 30%.)

And use them they do. One-half of the smart speaker-owning respondent base said they use it at least daily (just under one quarter said they use it multiple times per day), and another 39% said they engage with it several times a week. As for what they ask their smart speaker, there are some fascinating differences between user ages, but the top five requests across the entire respondent base are (in order) to play music, for the weather, for news, for basic facts or trivia, and for calendar or scheduling information.

Interestingly, despite the increased usage, the reactions to these devices are decidedly mixed. Smart speakers managed to garner the top spot in both the list of favorite smart home products that respondents own, as well as the list of least favorite smart home products they own. Go figure.

Actually, when you dig into the reasons why they felt that way, it’s clear that most consumers see smart speakers as an exciting and intriguing new product category, but one that still needs improvement. The top reasons for why it was their favorite include most useful, most practical, and easiest to use. The top reasons for why it was their least favorite are least practical, least useful, and hardest to use. Obviously, there’s potential there, but also a lot of work that needs to be done to improve many consumers’ experiences with these devices.

As for market share, the results from the TECHnalysis Research study were nearly identical to the recently reported eMarketer numbers, with Amazon capturing just under 71% of current users, Google Home at roughly 26%, and 3% for Other. How those number shake out through the end of the year, however, remains to be seen.

One of the key expected developments in smart speakers is the addition of a screen, such as in the new Amazon Echo Show, potentially for video calls, but also for other applications. When asked about the potential interest in these other applications, respondents came back with some surprising results. Instead of a full-blown web browser, the top applications they wanted to see were clocks or timers, personal calendar information, weather or news headlines, and media information, such as album art. All of these preferences suggest interest in more of a visual reinforcement of the voice-based information they receive from a smart speaker, and not another visual display-focused device.

The smart speaker category is still in its earliest stages. There are bound to be many more companies, many more devices, many more enhancements, and lots of interesting developments yet to come. It’s clear from this latest research, though, that the category has sparked tremendous consumer interest and will be an incredibly important one to watch for years to come.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the complete study, please feel free to contact me at

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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