Tech giants see future in shopping through speakers

05 September 2017 - 12:52 By AFP
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Ordering pizza from the sofa without lifting a finger has joined the list of modern-day conveniences, thanks to a hot trend in voice-commanded smart speakers. 

Amazon, Apple and Google are fighting it out with devices designed to sit out of sight in homes, awaiting spoken commands to tend to tasks such as ordering goods, finding information, playing music, mapping routes, or reading e-mail.

Technology research firm Gartner says the market for voice-activated speakers equipped with artificial intelligence and synched to the internet will grow to $3.52-billion in 2021 from $360-million in 2015.

"Shopping through speakers is still an early adopter activity," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for Creative Strategies.

"It's going to be slow. It's not going to be overnight." Thanks to bargain prices for Amazon Echo devices in particular, smart speakers are becoming mainstream but consumers are not yet ready to fully trust the technology, Milanesi said.

Voice-controlled shopping, for now, involves mainly straightforward, repeated buys such as laundry soap or dog treats, with people tending to want to actually see big-ticket items, especially if they involve style or colour choices, she contended.

 Amazon launched its first Echo device in 2014 and has already sold millions of the smart speakers.

 Amazon dominates the smart speaker industry, with 70% of the market in the US while second-place Google Home has about 24%, according to eMarketer.

Apple this year unveiled a "HomePod" speaker set to begin shipping in December.

Not to be left behind, South Korean consumer electronics colossus Samsung recently announced it is working on a smart speaker.