Some new smart-speaker predictions from research firm eMarketer are generating headlines mainly based on the claims about Amazon’s ongoing domination of the market in the US. We’ll get to those in a minute. We think there’s another angle that’s worth thinking about first.

“While US smart speaker users will continue to rise in absolute numbers, we expect overall growth to slow over the next several years,” wrote executive editor Amy He. “We estimate that there will be 83.1 million smart speaker users this year, representing year-over-year growth of 13.7%. In 2021, growth will slip into the single digits.”

It’s still growth, of course, but those 83.1 million Americans represent just 28.9% of the US internet-using population – suggesting that the ceiling for these devices may be somewhat lower than the keenest smart-speaker evangelists have hoped.

That said, eMarketer also stressed that voice assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are going well beyond smart speakers: cars, home appliances etc. ‘Voice’ as an interface is going to be much bigger than ‘smart speakers’ as a device category, and thus so will the impact and opportunities for music. It’s also worth noting that while the US may be rapidly maturing as a smart-speaker market, many other countries are still very early, while China – which overtook the US a while back – is still seeing strong growth.

Anyway, Amazon. “This year, 69.7% of US smart speaker users will use an Echo, down slightly from 72.9% last year. By comparison, 31.7% of smart speaker users will turn to Google-branded devices, and 18.4% will use other smart speaker brands, including the Apple HomePod, Harmon Kardon Invoke and Sonos One,” wrote He, noting that the total adds up to more than 100% due to multiple-speaker ownership.

This suggests that there’ll be 57.9 million Americans using Amazon Echos this year, more than double the 26.3 million using Google’s smart speakers. As we’ve noted before, Echos (along with Prime memberships) are a key funnel for Amazon’s music-streaming services, which now have more than 55 million users globally.

We’ll finish by pointing you to two other recent pieces of research on smart speakers. In January, NPR and Edison Research’s ‘Smart Audio Report’ suggested that 60 million Americans now own a smart speaker (slightly different to the ‘users’ in eMarketer’s predictions), with around 157m of the devices currently in use there. Meanwhile, Canalys recently predicted that 150m smart speakers will ship globally in 2020, representing 21.7% year-on-year growth.

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Music Ally's Head of Insight

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