HERTFORDSHIRE, UK – Futuresource Consulting has added headphones and wearables to its Voice assistants market forecast and calculates these categories alone will exceed 100 million VA integrated devices by 2021.

Voice assistants are being integrated into an increasing number and variety of connected consumer devices in multiple markets and are on course to develop as a major user interface over the next two to three years, according to Futuresource.

While smart speakers represented more than half of the total 49.6 million VA devices shipped worldwide last year, the range of products supporting assistants from Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple has expanded to include media streamers, consoles, Smart TVs and wearables.

Smart speakers remain unique, supporting far-field microphones, and therefore are truly hands-free, the firm says. Futuresource believes 2018 will see a marked increase in devices supporting far-field pickup.

“2017 was the year where VAs made their first serious moves beyond smart speakers and into other product categories,” said senior market analyst Rasika D’Souza. “This momentum is anticipated to accelerate in 2018 with headphones, smart home hubs, wireless networking equipment and STBs all expected to see popular consumer launches.

Amazon maintained its dominance in the market, while Google made in-roads in 2017 to establish itself as number two. Futuresource believes Google Assistant will close the gap to Amazon’s Alexa over the next two years.

The much bigger midterm challenge to Amazon and Google is emerging in Asia, the firm says. In China, where companies such as Alibaba and Baidu have invested heavily in AI, they have released their first devices with supported services in 2017 and have been building up ecosystems. Already, they are tailoring products to markets outside their domestic base, whilst Naver and Line are doing similar from South Korea and Japan.

Some brands are using VAs as a key to strategies offering a unified experience across multiple devices in a room or building. This is evident where VAs act as a hub to combine several items together to form smart solutions for bathrooms or kitchens. Futuresource believes this strategy will be replicated in other verticals such as education and the enterprise.

“2018 is a particularly critical time in terms of VA implementation,” said Simon Bryant, director of research at Futuresource. “It is a battleground for companies positioning themselves to be the basis of future smart home platforms, integrating different ecosystems and crossing traditional divides between rooms, sectors, OS and ecosystems. Those VAs that do not gain traction in the next 12 to 18 months will find themselves out of the loop, with potential OEM and service partners focusing their efforts on those platforms with which they have already struck agreements.”

By 2027, Futuresource envisions VAs will be even more pervasive, incorporated into the fabric of a smart home, interacting with sensors, cameras, control points and devices to automate the smart home and help manage consumers’ daily lives. Futuresource says users will be able to choose which VAs to install across devices.

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