TORONTO – Every five to six years, something hits the market that becomes an instant must-have among consumers, and right now, that device is a smart speaker.
“This is not a normal growth curve,” said Steve Koenig, senior director, market researcher for CES organizer the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), pointing to a graph that showed U.S. smart speaker shipments at this year’s Dx3 event in Toronto.
There was an audible gasp among audience members when they noticed the massive leap from 2016 to 2017, when shipments went from 7,200 to 27,256, a 280 per cent year-to-year increase. That spike continued into 2018, and is expected to hit nearly 57,000 in 2019. CTA predicts that shipments will decrease in 2020 by eight per cent, but will still remain well above 45,000 speakers.
“The last must-have product was a tablet. Before that it was a smartphone. Before that – the DVD player. Now it’s the smart speaker,” said Koenig. “I would hypothesize that the same will be true, if it’s not already true, in Canada.”
Approximately 56 million smart speakers will be shipped worldwide this year alone, according to a recent report from Canalys. Google Home launched in Canada in July 2017. The Amazon Echo followed in its footsteps in December.
Koenig didn’t present any information about smart speaker shipments in Canada, but other data suggests there’s a strong desire for audio products in Canada. CTA’s second Annual Consumer Tech Ownership in Canada study says half of the items on Canadian’s wish list for this year are audio-related. Earbuds, headphones and wireless speakers are all in demand right now, so it only make sense that smart speakers are to follow, said Koenig.
Consumers in Alberta and Ontario are most likely to adopt smart speakers first. Twenty per cent of all tech ownership across Canada is in Ontario, according to the report. Fifteen per cent of smart thermostats and security cameras are purchased in Alberta.
It’s only a matter of time before Alexa begins initiating conversations with consumers, said Koenig.
“If we’re going to be talking and ordering more things through e-commerce with Alexa and Google Assistant, we’re going to need to be able to trust them,” said Koenig. “They’re going to start conversations with us … it’s the same dynamic as push notifications on your smartphone.”
In addition, he predicted AI will help smart speakers better understand different accents and conversations with context.
“Some call it cool, others call it creepy, but it all adds up to consumer convenience. If your device doesn’t support Alexa or Google Assistant, consumers are very quickly not going to be interested, because it doesn’t get any easier than speaking to a device.”