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Speak up: Are Smart Speakers the New Frontier?

With the news that Facebook is about the enter the smart speaker game with two new products and speculation that Spotify is also going into hardware this week, we ask the crucial question: Is the next chapter in the streaming battle all about voice recognition and machine learning?

It certainly feels that way, with the recent launch of Apple’s Homepod, the prevalence and affordability of Amazon’s various Echo devices and Google Home alongside other major players about to enter the market.

According to recent job ads posted, Spotify is working on a line of “category defining” hardware products and is ready to start setting up the manufacturing process. They apparently intend to create a hardware category “akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles”. Meanwhile, Facebook will reportedly launch two smart speakers this summer, tipped to arrive with 15-inch touchscreen displays featuring video chat and social features.

It is happening- A recent survey from Adobe Analytics discovered that the most popular activity on voice-controlled devices is playing music. Which is perhaps unsurprising- its far easier to shout out a track, genre or even mood than fiddle around with a phone or laptop, making smart speakers accessible to a whole generation of people who perhaps felt previously a bit alienated by digital technology.

The possibilities are extensive- as such devices become connected to smart health tracking devices, we’ll most likely see a more predictive approach with smart speakers serving up music for particular times of the day and occasions.

A playlist of your most played tracks on Spotify served up on the morning of your Birthday? A favourite chill out playlist during that stressful two-hour commute? All of your favourite downbeat indie Christmas covers doled out for the entire family on the morning of December 25th? Offering tickets to a tour from an artist you’ve streamed a lot? It is quite clear that the future is personalisation and curation tied as closely as possible to the listener’s habits, time of day, physical state and other factors- all of this is already happening on streaming platforms, but smart speakers could take it to a whole new level.

As with streaming, the key question is: which major player will truly crack this first on a mass market level? Amazon has a head start with the delayed launch of Homepod but Apple are aiming for a far more music centric experience as opposed to a general AI assistant and they undoubtedly have a huge existing user base of iPhone users.

The music industry will need to stay smart the make the most of the opportunities this new frontier will offer.

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