HomePod Estimated to Have Just 4% Market Share Worldwide Despite 45% Sales Growth Last Quarter

HomePod shipments totaled 1.6 million units in the fourth quarter of 2018, a 45 percent increase on a year-over-year basis, according to Strategy Analytics. Despite the growth, the research firm estimates that Apple's share of the worldwide smart speaker market was just 4.1 percent during the quarter.


By comparison, Amazon and Google commanded the market with an estimated 13.7 million and 11.5 million smart speakers shipments respectively. The two companies combined for an estimated 65.5 percent market share in the quarter.


A lot of this comes down to pricing. At $349, the HomePod is significantly more expensive than the Amazon Echo and Google Home. In particular, the smaller Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini models were available for as low as $25 during the holiday season, a fraction of the cost of a HomePod.

"Amazon and Google both have broad model lineups, ranging from basic to high-end, with even more variants from Amazon. Apple of course has only its premium-priced HomePod, and likely won't gain significant share until it offers an entry-level product closer to Echo Dot and Home mini," CIRP co-founder Josh Lowitz said last month.

To improve sales, many resellers offered the HomePod for $249 during the holiday season, and $279 is a commonly seen price too.

Second is the fact that the HomePod is not so smart, as many reviews found, due to Siri's shortcomings compared to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple recently restructured its Siri team as it works to make improvements.

A third reason is availability. Apple launched the HomePod two to three years after its largest competitors, and sales remain limited to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, China, and Hong Kong. Amazon and Google smart speakers are available in more countries.

Last year, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple was "mulling" a "low-cost version" of the HomePod, potentially due to shipments falling "far below market expectations." It could end up being a Siri-enabled Beats speaker.

Of course, the Strategy Analytics data is estimated to begin with. Apple does not disclose HomePod sales, instead grouping the speaker under its "Wearables, Home, and Accessories" category in its earnings reports alongside the Apple Watch, Apple TV, AirPods, Beats, iPod touch, and other accessories.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Amazon Pulls Echo Wall Clock Over Connectivity Issues

Amazon has pulled its Echo Wall Clock over concerns about connectivity issues, just a little over a month since it began shipping the product.


The Wall Clock's lack of availability on the Amazon website was first spotted by The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern before being confirmed by Amazon in a statement given to The Verge.
"We're aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We're working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks."
Announced in September along with several other Alexa-enabled products, Amazon's Wall Clock costs $29.99 and performs the expected Alexa and Echo tasks while also telling the time.

It runs on four AA batteries and connects to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for setup, but requires the user to own a standard Echo to access all the features, which include displaying timers on the clock face.

Customers who received a clock before they were delisted and have experienced connectivity issues are advised to contact Amazon to arrange a refund.


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Apple Music Now Playable on Amazon Echo Speakers via Alexa in United States

Apple Music can now be streamed on Amazon Echo speakers via Alexa in the United States, a few days ahead of schedule.


As spotted by 9to5Mac, it is now possible to link Apple Music with your Amazon account in the Alexa app for iPhone and use Alexa voice commands to control playback of songs, playlists, and Beats 1 on Apple Music on Amazon Echo speakers.

To access this feature, simply use a voice command such as "Alexa, play music by Ed Sheeran on Apple Music" or "Alexa, play today's hits on Apple Music." Apple Music can also be set as the default music service in the Alexa app, so that "Apple Music" does not need to be specified each time.


Other streaming music services supported on Echo speakers include Spotify, Deezer, Vevo, SiriusXM, Tidal, and Pandora.

Apple and Amazon announced this new partnership in late November, with Amazon saying it is "committed to offering great music providers to our customers," and referring to Apple Music as "one of the most popular music services."

Apple Music playback on Amazon Echo speakers is currently limited to the United States.


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Apple Music to Launch on Amazon’s Echo Devices the Week of December 17

Apple and Amazon today announced that Apple Music will launch on Echo devices beginning the week of December 17. In a blog post, Amazon explains that Apple Music subscribers will be able to ask Alexa to play their favorite songs, artist, playlists, Beats1 radio stations, and albums, all through an Echo speaker.

One example they give is the command, "Alexa, play Bebe Rexha on Apple Music."


The integration will launch as an Apple Music skill that will need to be enabled within the Alexa app, where users will also be able to link their account to start listening to Apple Music on an Echo speaker. Apple Music will join the ranks of a few other music streaming services already supported on Echo, including Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora.
“Music is one of the most popular features on Alexa—since we launched Alexa four years ago, customers are listening to more music in their homes than ever before,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president, Amazon Devices.

“We are committed to offering great music providers to our customers and since launching the Music Skill API to developers just last month, we’ve expanded the music selection on Alexa to include even more top tier services. We’re thrilled to bring Apple Music – one of the most popular music services in the US – to Echo customers this holiday.”
Apple Music is said to have over 56 million total subscribers, including those on the free trial. The company is in a battle with Spotify as each tries to grow their numbers. In November, Spotify reported 87 million paid subscribers on its service, and 191 million monthly active users.

These numbers refer to global paid subscriber users, and in a report over the summer it was suggested that Apple Music is actually ahead of Spotify's paid subscriber count in the United States. Both Apple Music and Spotify were said to have more than 20 million paid subscribers in the U.S. as of July 2018, and at the time Apple was "a hair ahead" of its rival.


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Amazon Reveals New Alexa-Compatible Echo Speakers, Subwoofer, Amplifiers, Microwave, Wall Clock, and More

Amazon held a big hardware event today at The Seattle Spheres, located at Amazon's headquarters campus in Washington state. The event was notable for Amazon, with senior vice president of Amazon Devices Dave Limp stating that it marked the largest number of devices and features that Amazon has ever debuted in one day.

The first product unveiling was a new and upgraded Echo Dot, which includes a brand new mic array for better performance. The company says the driver is much larger -- increasing from 1.1" to a 1.6" driver -- resulting in more powerful sound with lower distortion, enhanced bass reproduction, and increased overall max volume.

Echo Dot

Through all of the upgrades, Echo Dot's footprint still hasn't increased and the price will remain at $49.99, just like previous generations. The new Echo Dot ships in October, and pre-orders go up today.

There's also a new mainline Echo device, the new Echo Plus. This generation has more powerful sound with stronger bass and clearer playback. There's a new equalizer feature that lets you use your voice to adjust the bass and treble through Alexa, a built-in smart home hub so you can set up devices by stating "Alexa, discover my devices," and an integrated temperature sensor so you can trigger routines based on how cool or hot the room is.

Image via The Verge

Echo Plus will cost $149.99 and is up for pre-order today before its October launch.
Continue reading "Amazon Reveals New Alexa-Compatible Echo Speakers, Subwoofer, Amplifiers, Microwave, Wall Clock, and More"

Amazon’s Alexa Recorded a Woman’s Private Conversation and Sent it to a Contact

A woman in Portland recently had an alarming experience with her Alexa-enabled devices after a private conversation was recorded and sent to a random contact, according to a news report from Seattle's Kiro7 news.

The woman, Danielle, and her family had Amazon devices situated in each room for home control, and two weeks ago, one of those devices apparently recorded a conversation about hardwood floors and sent it to a person on their contact list. There are no details on how the recording was delivered to the contact.

But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. "The person on the other line said, 'unplug your Alexa devices right now,'" she said. "'You're being hacked.'"

That person was one of her husband's employees, calling from Seattle.

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"
Danielle confirmed that the recordings received by the contact were indeed conversations picked up by her Alexa device, and in no way was she informed that Alexa was sending the recording to a contact. She contacted Amazon and was told that the "device just guessed what we were saying." Amazon apologized and told her it would fix the issue.

Alexa has an option to send a message to a contact name using a voice recording, but Alexa is supposed to vocally confirm such requests and does not appear to have done so in this instance.

In a statement to the Kiro7, Amazon said that it "takes privacy very seriously" and that the event was an "extremely rare occurrence" that it is taking steps to prevent in the future.

This is not the first strange Alexa behavior that Amazon has had to deal with. Back in March, Alexa made headlines after multiple customers with Alexa-enabled devices reported hearing creepy, unsolicited laughter.


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Alexa App on iPad Can Now Initiate Phone/Video Calls and Send Messages to Echo Devices

Amazon is now allowing users to make phone calls, video calls, and send messages from an iPad, Android, or Fire tablet to an Alexa-enabled Echo device. Previously, users had to activate calls or send messages using an Echo, so now it should be easier to communicate within Amazon's Alexa ecosystem (via Engadget). To receive calls, users need any device with the Alexa app installed or an Echo speaker.


The update also introduces Drop In support for the Alexa app on iPads and other tablets, meaning that iPad users can quickly send a message to someone near an Echo in a different room. Engadget noted that the new features are easiest to access on Amazon's own Fire HD 10 tablet, where Alexa is supported across the software, but iPad users will of course first have to open the Alexa iOS app to initiate calls and send messages.

Amazon's Alexa assistant has been in the news recently for scaring some users after creepily laughing for no apparent reason. Amazon has acknowledged the events and said it's working on a fix to roll out to affected users. Additionally, late last week Alexa gained a new "Follow-Up Mode," which lets the assistant respond to multiple questions in quick succession, without requiring the user to repeat the "Alexa" wake up command.

Amazon Alexa is available on the iOS App Store for free. [Direct Link]


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Amazon Working on a Fix for Alexa Devices Scaring Users With Creepy Laughter

For the past couple of weeks, speakers equipped with Amazon's Alexa voice-based personal assistant have been randomly laughing, scaring and creeping out speaker owners who have affected devices.


Complaints have been surfacing on Twitter, Reddit, and other social media platforms over the course of the last few weeks, but the issue started receiving widespread attention this week after it was shared on BuzzFeed. From Reddit:
A friend of mine at work just a couple of days ago told me this very thing happened at his moms house. He was face timing with his her(he jokes she is jealous of Alexa, his dad just loves it) and out of the blue in the background Alexa started to laugh, he even heard it on his end. Said it was super creepy. I'm waiting the have the holy hell scared out of me one quiet evening...or even worse, awakened by the one a foot from my head while I'm sleeping.
Some audio examples of the Alexa laugh, with a humorous skit from Jimmy Kimmel included

In a statement provided to The Verge this morning, Amazon said that it is aware that some Alexa-enabled devices are randomly laughing and a fix is in the works. "We're aware of this and working to fix it," Amazon said.


Customers who have an Alexa-enabled device and are creeped out by the random and unprompted laughs may want to turn off their speakers until Amazon is able to locate the issue and push out a fix.

Update: Amazon says that in "rare circumstances" Alexa mistakenly hears the phrase "Alexa, laugh" which causes the creepy laughter. Amazon is changing the phrase to "Alexa, can you laugh?" to cut down on false positives.


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Smart Speaker Survey States iPhone Owners 22 Percent More Likely to Buy Speakers, Favor Amazon Over Google

In January, Voicebot.ai surveyed 1,057 Americans over the age of 18 regarding their ownership or interest in smart speakers, and today the researchers have published their final report with the results. While the data precedes Apple's entry into the market with HomePod in February, it does include a few points of data regarding iPhone/iOS users and their interest in smart speakers, prevalent long before rumblings about Apple's HomePod began.


Specifically, the Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report states that iPhone owners are 22 percent more likely to own a smart speaker compared to non-Apple smartphone owners. Of the smart speakers on the market besides HomePod, iPhone users are 30 percent less likely to own a Google Home and favor devices like Amazon Echo.

Graphs via Voicebot.ai

In fact, Voicebot.ai argued that Apple and Amazon are likely companions in "multi-manufacturer households," where HomePod is purchased as a "luxury item for music listening" and Echo is used for more "utilitarian tasks."
iOS users are attractive consumers and far more likely to own a smart speaker overall, but far less likely to own a Google device. However, the data also suggests that Google is at less risk of losing share to Apple HomePod than Amazon. Apple and Amazon may be the focus of multi-manufacturer households where HomePod is a luxury item for music listening in living spaces while Echo products get placed in the kitchen and bedrooms for utilitarian tasks.

In addition, iPhone owners are a good fit for Amazon because they are far more likely to have made a purchase by voice and more likely the 30,000 Alexa skills offered to Echo users. The favoritism shown by Apple owners to Alexa devices may also appeal to developers. Historically, iPhone app users have been far more valuable to developers on a revenue basis than Android users.
The report has many other interesting tidbits of information, stating that about 19.7 percent of adults in the United States use smart speakers, while 47.3 million have access to one of these devices. This means that they live in a home with a smart speaker, but may not be the primary owner -- a necessary distinction for the survey as smart speakers are "communal devices" used by entire households, unlike a smartphone with one user.

Many consumers own an average of 1.8 smart speakers, most place them in their living room (45.9 percent of owners) or kitchen (41.4 percent), and Amazon remains the dominant player in the market with a 3.5 times larger install base than Google. All of this growth surprised many analysts, particularly compared to growth rates of other product categories.
How does the march to nearly 50 million smart speaker consumers in 3 years compared to growth rates of other communications channels? Television took 13 years, the internet four years, and Facebook just two years. Smart speakers are devices but are growing almost as quickly as social media apps."
Among the most popular use cases, questions, music, and weather commands remain at the top. In total, the researchers said that this data provides the best indication that smart speakers are "being incorporated into everyday lives of consumers," with 63 percent using them daily and 77 percent at least weekly.


For those who don't own a smart speaker, 37.9 percent stated disinterest as their reason, 21.2 percent said they get enough similar features from their smartphone, 16 percent referenced privacy concerns, 11.8 percent said they plan to purchase soon, 8.8 percent claimed they were too expensive, and 4.2 referenced other reasons. For future owners, 9.8 percent expect to make a purchase in 2018, 26 percent of which said they will be purchasing Apple's HomePod.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Buy Now)

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Amazon Starts Taking Pre-Orders from U.K. Customers for Echo Spot

Amazon began taking pre-orders from U.K. customers for its Alexa-powered Echo Spot speaker on Tuesday. Announced along with all-new Echo models in September 2017, the compact display-and-speaker unit has only been available in the U.S. before now.

The Spot is capable of standard Amazon Echo functions like controlling smart home devices and streaming music, but can also show users additional information like song lyrics, weather forecasts, and the time on its 2.5-inch display.



The circular unit can also play content from Amazon Video and YouTube, just like its bigger brother, the Echo Show.

The Echo Spot costs £120, although Amazon is currently offering a discount of £20 per unit when two are bought together (£200). Pre-orders are expected to ship on January 24, which means the entire Echo family will be available to U.K. customers from then on.

The Echo dot was the top-selling Amazon device over the 2017 holiday season, as well as “the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon,” according to the e-commerce company.

As Amazon’s Alexa devices continue to dominate the smart speaker market, Apple has plans to release its own music-focused smart speaker device, called HomePod, early this year.

HomePod will be controlled mainly through the user’s voice using Siri, and include access to Apple Music and other expected smart speaker functionalities, like asking about the weather, traffic, setting reminders, timers, and more.

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