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Competition heats up in smart home market

Amazon’s Echo and Apple Homepod looking likely to gain attention from publishers and consumers

Two new competitors are entering the smart home market in February, with Amazon’s Echo and Apple Homepod looking likely to gain attention from publishers and consumers alike.

Amazon Echo, commonly referred to by the name of its assistant Alexa, will be available from February 1. Alexa will cost $119 for the standard model and $49 for the smaller Echo.

Apple’s device, HomePod, will hit the market February 9, two months after its intended December 2017 release was postponed. The device will be the most expensive in the market, retailing at $499.

Each device already has publishers on board.

Alexa will launch with content from Seven West Media’s The West Australian, News Corp Australia’s recipe site taste.com.au, and REA Group’s realestate.com.au.

Seven West’s Head of digital Dan Stinton said it was important to be open to new technologies.

“We believe that smart speakers have significant audience potential and builds on our strategy to make our content available wherever our audience wants to access it,” he said.

Alexa will launch with a “flash briefing” from The West Australian, providing users with all the top stories from the west.

Mr Stinton said: “Users will also have the ability to ask for more detail about any of the stories and we will be leveraging Amazon’s text-to-voice technology to create audio versions of each. This is 100 per cent computer-generated but sounds remarkably lifelike.

“It also creates a platform for us to launch other text to voice audio in the coming months.”

All podcasts from The West Australian will be available across Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple Homepod.

News’ Taste.com.au will enable users to search the site’s extensive library of recipes and dictate the steps to create a hands-free experience.

News Corp Australia’s director of food Fiona Nilsson said the skill would save users the trouble of messy screens.

“Cooking from a voice recipe makes it quicker to prep meals and easier to multi-task,” she said.

“Taste.com.au is Australia’s biggest digital kitchen and we are constantly looking at our content and how it can add value to customers’ lives. We are committed to being at the forefront of innovation and voice-activated technology is the next exciting evolution for the brand.

“It provides the best possible experience to our customers and changes how they interact with the brand in the kitchen. It’s the perfect accompaniment to our content.”

The REA Group, which is majority owned by News Corp Australia, announced on Monday that “Realestate.com.au News” would also launch on the device, drawing on the extensive property coverage produced for the site.

Nigel Dalton, REA group chief inventor, said: “It’s still early days for having conversations with your technology, but we’re continuing to discover new ways to adapt and integrate that into our daily lives. We’ve started with voice-powered news content to see how consumers respond, and will be using these insights to create an even more immersive AI experience.”

Seven News also will be on board Alexa, offering users twice-daily news bulletins at 6am and 5pm. The broadcaster will be one of three news providers on Apple’s HomePod at launch, which Mr Stinton believes “demonstrates our commitment to this emerging channel”.

Similarly, public broadcaster SBS will offer news on the device, delivering users audio news bulletins upon command.

The technology will give Google’s Home device stiff competition. Google Home has been the only device in the Australian smart home market since its launch in July 2017, but data from the US indicates that Alexa will likely prevail. At a lower price point and with a wider range of programming, the Amazon device outsold Google three to one in 2017. As for Apple’s HomePod, with a premium price tag, initial sales will likely be strong among Apple loyalists but long term projections are more uncertain.

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