Let’s Hear It For (Sizzling) Voice-Activated Speakers

Alexa or Siri, Google at Home or via mobile, voice is sizzling, deployed over technology’s various platforms. And for a fizzle, try being a beleaguered ATM maker or buying java with bitcoin.

The idea of interacting with machinery, person to, er, microchip, is an old one. Goes far back even beyond microchips. Played to comedic effect in Buck Rogers and Star Wars and WarGames and all manner of sci-fi literature even across the decades.

No newsflash, but we want machines to do our bidding, to be responsive, to be our sounding boards.

So: Long live the voice-activated speaker. You know something’s going right when everyone is getting into the act. And you know that Amazon is doing something right when everyone is getting into its act.

OK, the act is big enough for several players to jostle against one another for top billing. But as statistics this week bear out, the rise of voice-activated technology is gaining some momentum. Yes, the marquee names are Amazon Echo and Google Home, which as reported late last month per ADI data, are seeing unit sales increases on the order of 39 percent annually. Though that number might give rise to conversation of the cocktail chatter sort (shhh! Alexa might hear you!), as noted in the report via ADI analyst Trevor Jones, the heady growth rate “indicates that devices sales are performing well but have not yet become a standard household purchase.”

One wonders where that tipping point toward true ubiquity might lie, and what might be the tipping event. But for now … 14 billion visits to online retailers in the past year, from May 2016 to May 2017, and 14 million visits via social media mentions is nothing to sneeze at, speaking to wide recognition of the lure of the devices. Roughly 400 interviews show that Google Home has an edge over Echo Dot, at least as defined over the holiday season. For the record, price matters at this point — but not really, given that Google Home “is bringing in the money.”

Now, however, consider the fact that Alexa has 15,000 skills, voice-activated ones, that far outpaced the 10,000 voice apps that were in place even at the beginning of the year. Roughly half of those surveyed in the U.S. say that they do not use a voice assistant, which implies room for growth regardless of the brand chosen, as ADI estimated roughly 778,000 connections to voice assistants in the field, so to speak.

For the content creators who make, well, content — you know, the content that resides on the speakers. Amazon has about 70 percent market share, with Google Home to have about 24 percent of the market, according to eMarketer, and against that backdrop, 36 million U.S.-based consumers will use a voice-activated assistant in 2017, which is up 129 percent from 2016. To add further grist for the mill, our own research in conjunction with Visa sees conversational commerce in action, to the tune of 14 percent of our sample using the technologies to actually transact.

Conversation is the way to information, and person to person (or in this case, person to machine?) that dream has never left us. High-pitched or low, quickened or slow, perhaps the biggest sizzle this week is the human voice.



ACH: OK, so it’s not kill the check, at least not yet. It’s maim the check, perhaps on the way to the kill. The Federal Reserve has found that businesses wrote an average of 24 checks on a monthly basis in 2015, which is off from 66 checks written in 2000. That comes in tandem with ACH payments growing to just under 30 transactions online, up from 13 in 2000. Something’s gotta give, and the give may be in the paper chase.

Amazon in India: So what’s another $260 million investment when you’ve already put in $2 billion and have pledged a total of $5 billion? That’s Amazon’s commitment to its India ops, where growth is sizzling enough, and competition robust enough, to mandate heavy duty capital allocation. Prime Day looms, as does the prime fall Indian shopping season, which means eCommerce in the age of demonetization is likely to get a big boost.

Tide: In the wake of Brexit and all the uncertainty that has come with it, perhaps it is refreshing to see a U.K. FinTech grab $14 million in financing, a sign of confidence in both product and market. In this case, Series A financing came through via investor consortium, which means that London staffing is going to ramp up. The company intends to bolster its small business banking service and boost banking services done over mobile, with the new wrinkle that those services will be provided across multiple currencies. Even while the bigger banks are encamping on the Continent, the smaller upstarts may be smelling opportunity.


Diebold: A 22 percent decline in the stock price of Diebold is nothing to sneeze at, nor is revenue guidance that came in below the Street. Neither is the admission that would-be customers are taking their time when it comes to making final decisions and pulling the trigger on new buys. Might that presage some volatility for other companies that “bundle” their hardware and software? But then again, maybe painting such tech malaise with a broad brush is hasty, given the growth seen in Cardtronics’ own machines and, in general, non-bank and non-branch-located ATMs.

Time will tell.

Interbanking Decline: The Financial Stability Board is the international body that makes financial recommendations for the G20 nations, and that Board says that banks globally are cutting down on the number of correspondent banking relationships in place. Correspondent banks are used for cross-border relationships, and concerns over compliance and other issues may be the culprit.  That may spell sluggishness for continued B2B and other transactions.

Bitcoin fees mean bitcoin trading lags: Wanna buy a $5 cup of coffee using bitcoin? That $5 in bitcoin may run you a couple of extra bucks in transaction fees. That means that this will be one heck of an expensive cup of coffee. Talk about “illiquidity.” The ebb and flow of buys and sells for bitcoin is less than smooth, which means that transaction costs are high, at least as levied by miners — which, in turn, means, perhaps, that only high-ticket transactions may be the province of the cryptocurrency.