The Battle for the Home

It is now blatantly obvious; all the big tech companies believe the next big tech battleground is the home. While we can look at products like smart speakers the likes of Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod, as the first main entry points, the real battleground is the platform, and the services, consumers will consume as a result of integrating more technology into their homes.

The high-level observation is the voice UI or voice first platform is likely to serve as the primary input to interact with what will eventually become your home computer. The underlying operating system will be fundamentally invisible, but the voice UI will become our primary interaction model for input and output. We will still use screens to augment these voice experiences, but we will likely use a combination of our eyes, ears, and voice to interact with technology in our home and not our hands and fingers as we do with computers today.

However, the battle for the home will also be one of the more challenging environments for most tech companies who have succeeded in personal computer. The challenge rests on the fact that consumers homes are compromised of many different consumers. Most tech companies succeed by selling products to just one consumer with a goal of meeting that one consumer’s needs, wants, and desires. The home presents a unique challenge because no longer is the consumer only interested in their personal needs but also that of the home community whatever that looks like. The home is a mish-mash of personal and communal experiences, and this will challenge the approach of the individualized focus of most tech companies.

While Amazon, Google, and Apple seem to take tiny steps forward to embrace the communal aspects of their customer’s needs, there is always more they can do. Embracing the challenge of the home environment and the needs of the community not just the needs of the individual is a good first step. But a potential larger challenge looms.

A key observation we continually make when study consumer homes are how they are rarely completely homogeneous to just one OS, smartphone brand, etc. Meaning consumers under the same roof use devices with different operating systems and often different platforms than others in their household. Therefore, for a company like Apple, Google, and Amason, for example, to develop a strategy for the home that assumes everyone in the household uses their products or services exclusively would be a flawed assumption. If they go further and develop core experiences that remain exclusive to their hardware, then this could lead down a dangerous path as well.

Both Apple and Google have shown shades of this. Google initially was going to keep Google Assistant exclusive to their hardware, which I predicted at the time would be short-lived. Yesterday at their event they showed a new technology called Google Lens which, for now, will be exclusive to Pixel devices but undoubtedly will roll out to everyone. Apple also has shown hints of this with Siri and their home strategy. Siri will be available to use on HomePod but no other third-party smart speakers. Here is an area where I’m hoping Apple’s smart home strategy starts to look like their CarPlay strategy where they allow some specific integration with third parties around smart home products.

Despite the challenges I think each vendor has, one thing is clear to me. All of these devices and services need to somehow work together. When it comes to my smart assistant, I may not want to choose or use just one. Furthermore, even if I choose just one other in my household may not. This is why I find Sonos’ strategy so intriguing. Sonos announced support for Alexa, as well as Google Assistant (sometime next year), as well as support for AirPlay 2, meaning technically with a Sonos smart speaker you will be able to use all of these assistants together.

Imagine the use case where I use Amazon (Alexa) for commerce services, Apple (Siri) for personal assistant stuff, and Google (Assistant) for general search. The use case I just imagined is a common one for many consumers who use a mix of all these services on their smartphones, notebook/desktops, or tablets only they use the app or website. All I’m outlining is the same scenario where we use a mix of these services but do so with our voice. A device like Sonos which strives to work with all voice services can enable this reality.

Key takeaway: The home is neutral ground not exclusive ground from a technology standpoint. This reality will challenge the underlying philosophy of first-party hardware/services that all platform tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, etc.) utilize. The home is unquestionably the next big tech battleground, but it will also be the hardest environment for the major players to tackle.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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