Google might be feeling pretty smart today about its high-tech Home and Home Mini speakers. That’s because a new research report puts Google ahead of Amazon in first-quarter shipments of smart speakers, the first time that has happened.
Google in Q1 shipped 3.2 million of its Google Home and Home Mini devices, according to news from CNBC, citing figures from Canalys, a technology market research firm. That compares to the 2.5 million shipments of Amazon Echo, a similar product from the eCommerce operator.
Alibaba took third place — though it was No. 1 in China — with 1.1 million shipments of its Tmall Genie speakers, Canalys said.
Overall, “smart speakers continue to be the world’s fastest-growing consumer technology segment, with year-on-year growth in Q1 2018 of 210 percent as shipments reached 9 million units,” the report said.
That market is attracting other major digital players — though not all has gone according to schedule. Facebook’s launch of its “Fiona” and “Aloha” speakers has reportedly been pushed back to autumn, though mass production is still set to start in June. That change led to a reported 20 percent reduction in order volume for this year, though production for 2019 remains unchanged.
Facebook would enter the smart speaker playing field as the United States becomes less important to that industry. According to the Canalys report, U.S. smart speaker market share in the first quarter “fell below 50 percent for the first time, partly due to Google and Amazon’s focus on expanding beyond their home markets, but also because of the increased traction that the technology is seeing with new vendors in markets such as China and South Korea.”
Suppliers shipped 1.8 million smart speakers to China in the first quarter of 2018, with 730,000 going to South Korea, which made that country the third-largest smart speaker market in the world, ahead of the United Kingdom but behind China and the United States.
For its part, Google has found notable success selling its speakers in India and other new markets, the report said.
“Google has several advantages over Amazon that have helped it move ahead,” said Canalys analyst Ben Stanton. “But its biggest advantage is in the channel. Operators and retailers tend to prioritize Google’s speakers over those from Amazon, as Amazon is in the tricky position of being a direct competitor. But Amazon is fighting back hard, and the sheer quantity of Alexa Skills and smart home integrations will be tough for any competitor to match.”
Sustained competition is not the only reason why Google might not want to get too cocky about its smart speakers. Not all researchers agree with the Canalys view that Google is on top.
A recent report from Strategy Analytics gave Amazon the top spot in shipments of smart speakers — 4 million during the first quarter of 2018, compared with 2.4 million for Google and 700,000 for Alibaba. The year-over-year rate of shipment growth for Amazon stood at 102 percent in the first quarter and 709 percent for Google. Overall, smart speaker shipments increased 278 percent year over year in Q1, to 9.2 million total units.
“Amazon and Google accounted for a dominant 70 percent share of global smart speaker shipments in Q1, although their combined share has fallen from 84 percent in Q4 2017 and 94 percent in the year ago quarter,” said David Watkins, director at Strategy Analytics. “This is partly … a result of strong growth in the Chinese market for smart speakers where both Amazon and Google are currently absent.”