Smart Speaker Sales Will Eventually Hit a Wall

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—If you haven’t noticed, there’s a war going on between technology’s biggest players. Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft: All of the big boys are slugging it out over the smart speaker. And this holiday season, it’s going to get fierce.

“The sales are going to be extraordinary,” predicted Activate CEO Michael J. Wolf at the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference here in Laguna Beach.

Smart speaker sales will rapidly ascend for about two years before peaking, Wolf said. And that’s when things will get interesting.

“The digital assistants are going to break free from the speaker,” Wolf said.

We’re already seeing hints of it. Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google’s simply named Assistant are already working their way into your car and your kitchen appliances. It’s clearly not the gadget that’s important, nor is it home automation. It is the smarts themselves.

“Every big tech company believes it’s its manifest destiny to own the digital assistant,” Wolf said. Better still, “the cost of accessing these digital assistants is heading to zero,” thanks to ever-cheaper prices for Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home, Apple’s HomePod, and so forth.

Plus, today’s digital assistants are already working their way into myriad other devices, from phones to refrigerators, and even popular software.

“Digital assistants really hit escape velocity when they ride on the backs of messaging apps,” Wolf said. Most people only conduct basic tasks on today’s smart speakers; 65% of people haven’t even installed one skill on the devices they own. A security breach could “put them into a Hefty bag,” Wolf said.

But a personal digital assistant accessible within the apps we’re already addicted to? That’s the ticket.

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