Americans are bored, housebound and screened out. This has created a golden opportunity for audio as consumers turn to podcasts, voice assistants and smart speakers — often at the same time.
Roughly 128 million Americans use a voice assistant at least once a month. Smartphones account for most voice assistants, but there are also nearly 160 million smart speakers in American homes.
Hundreds of hardware and software makers are not easily ceding control of their users to the tech giants, and instead are seeking to introduce their own solutions.
One of the hottest forms of audio content is, of course, podcasts. Listeners have never had so many choices for smart and compelling podcast content, with new exciting shows emerging daily. On the consumption side, monthly podcast listeners topped 100 million for the first time in 2020, a 40% increase in just two years.
Listeners get their podcasts from dedicated podcast apps (such as Stitcher), publisher apps (like NPR’s), music apps (such as Spotify), or their default phone app or voice assistant. With more than 1.7 million podcasts being produced today, even the most dedicated podcast listeners can’t listen to every episode in their queue.
This is where voice assistants come in.
The major voice assistants — Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung — dominate, but they face increasing competition for users from white-label voice assistants. This has become a battle that will be decided by whichever company can provide the best quality of service.
That’s why the voice assistant that can personalize podcasts and help listeners search, sample and discover content through shareable bite-sized pieces will win the voice wars.
A familiar battle over users
Early consumer electronics battles for users were waged over the operating system — Windows vs. Mac. Voice is another form of operating system and the battle over voice is no less fierce.
Apple’s Siri was the first modern virtual assistant to reach the masses. Amazon and Google have also heavily invested — often at a loss — to own voice activation for users, grab market share and protect their turf (e-commerce for Amazon and search for Google).
Amazon took 24% of the virtual assistant market in 2018, followed by Apple (22%), Google (20%), Microsoft’s Cortana (10%) (largely confined to desktop) and Samsung’s Bixby (6%).
These five major brands were early pioneers, but the next phase of the voice wars will be white-labeled, with voice assistants incorporated into all devices and brands.
The rise of white-label voice assistants
Unable to develop their own voice assistants, hundreds of device manufacturers must resort to Google or Alexa if they want to add voice functionality to their products. But in a way, this is a Trojan horse: Adding Google or Alexa voice enhances products but undermines user relationships.