Amazon, Google and Apple are all gunning to become the biggest name in the global smart speaker market, but Russia is one country that has been more or less left alone by the international tech giants.
Over the past 20 years, Russia has instead been incubating its own tech giant, Yandex, which has grown to be something like the country’s own version of Google mixed with Uber — mixed, now, with Amazon, as the company debuts its Prime-like Yandex.Plus membership and Yandex.Station smart speaker.
To be fair, Russia has seen some movement from foreign tech players. Google has been slowly chipping away at Yandex’s core search engine market share and now enjoys 43 percent market share, compared to Yandex’s 53 percent. This steady erosion was likely a factor in Yandex’s expansion into other market segments, including, but not limited to, this foray into smart hardware.
However, in terms of rapid growth, the competition seems to be just heating up. Yandex has responded by establishing a preemptive foothold across competitive verticals and, in the absence of any such product on the Russian market, coming up with its own bespoke Russian-fluent smart speaker.
While Yandex is far from a household name on the global scale, it certainly seems to have achieved that level of ubiquity in Russia as it ventures into all these different verticals — which could make outside competitors’ jobs much trickier if they do eventually target the Russian market.
Go Ask Alice
When Yandex’s virtual assistant Alice hit the market in October 2017, she was available on the company’s mobile app and would also later become compatible with its mobile browser. However, at the time, Yandex declined to talk about its plans, if any, for developing a smart speaker like Amazon’s Echo, the Google Home, or Apple’s HomePod.
Still, the head of Yandex’s Machine Intelligence and Research Division, Misha Bilenko, did tell TechCrunch at the time that “it would be very silly of us not to think about it hard,” since Russia did not have any such product on the market from its international competitors.
Clearly the company did think about it, because Yandex.Station is now here. The $160 smart home speaker was announced today, May 29, during the annual Yandex what’s-new event, called “Yet Another Conference,” along with a skills platform called Yandex.Dialogues by which developers can create new skills for the intelligent assistant Alice.
Sort of like Amazon’s Alexa Skills Kit or Apple’s ARKit.
But Yandex isn’t just copying what its counterparts have been doing in the U.S., U.K., Asia and elsewhere. According to TechCrunch, Station is the first smart speaker to power a video streaming experience via HDMI output. The output can be linked to a screen so users can ask Alice to search for and play videos, movies, and TV shows both on and off Yandex’s KinoPoisk streaming platform.
It also does all the usual stuff: Setting alarms, listening to music, checking the news or weather, and telling stories to keep children entertained.
Plus Grants Access To The Full Yandex Ecosystem
The Plus membership gives users access to a number of Yandex’s myriad perks and services. It seems that Yandex, like Amazon, wants to dip its fingers in as many pots as possible, creating a diverse ecosystem and a single entry point by which consumers can get the optimal pricing and experience.
Membership costs 169 roubles per month, around $2.75 USD. That’s a downright bargain next to Amazon Prime, which just increased its annual membership fee from $99 a year to $119 a year.
Plus-accessible services include music, film, and TV streaming (Yandex.Music, KinoPoisk); cloud storage (Yandex.Disc); ride-sharing discounts (Yandex.Taxi, which partly acquired Uber’s Russian assets); free delivery and early access to its developing eCommerce marketplace Yandex.Market (currently in beta); and VIP service and discounts for its car-sharing service, Yandex.Drive.
Taking Ownership Of Its Market
Yandex is not leaving much room for outside players to come in and scoop up market share for the modern tech experiences that consumers in other regions have come to enjoy and expect. And at this point, that’s kind of completely fair.
Amazon, Google and Apple have been doing their thing elsewhere for long enough that, if Russia was on their global smart speaker domination roadmap, they really should have made their move by now. There would have at least been talks.
That’s not to say that these companies won’t eventually turn to Russia as the next big market. But if and when they do, they shouldn’t be surprised to find that the ship has sailed without them.