We’re used to the battle of the big two in ambient voice — Amazon Alexa and Google Home (70% and 25% market share respectively). Apple finally entered the game with Siri on HomePod, although early reviews are essentially “sound quality great, Siri not great” - so they have some way to go.
Interestingly, the apparent dominance of Apple and Google seems not to be a deterrent. Mobile network operators also see themselves as natural providers of the all-encompassing voice assistant. At MWC, Deutsche Telekom announced its Magenta assistant and smart speaker. The company believes voice control will become an “essential element in the market” and played up the level of trust it has from its customers, and the importance of privacy, noting that voice commands would only be stored for 30 days.
Korea Telekom showed off its assistant NUGU with the added feature of a “holographic” figure projected inside the smart speaker, in the form of K-pop star Wendy from the band Red Velvet. Owners are not limited to experiencing her coquettish poses inside the box, either: an AR app allows Wendy to be lifted from the box into the room.
Telefónica launched its voice-enabled assistant Aura in six countries (Ask O2 in the UK), which is currently focused around providing management of telecom services (“how much data have I used?”). However, it clearly has broader ambitions as exemplified in the announcement of Movistar Home, launching later this year. This allows customers to make voice and video calls projected onto the television, control TV sets with voice, provide entertainment recommendations, and act as a smart home hub.
Orange showed off its Djingo smart speaker. The product coming out this year is very much in the mould of Echo and Google Home: good audio quality for a single speaker, voice controlled, and with integration to Orange’s other services such as TV, of which it provides 30% in its native France. Their presentation about the future of Djingo — material that they are using to run tests with consumers today — trails a world where the assistant is more ambient and more proactive. The interactions they showed were centred around a smart mirror which recognises members of the family that are passing by, quietly displays information relevant to them and allows richer interaction than with voice alone.
What are the implications for the future?
Time will tell whether the ambition of these operators is well-founded. At least it implies that there will be a need for some interoperability: it will surely hurt adoption for providers to have to support many different assistants separately. Yet, for the bold, they may represent a transformation strategy.
After a presentation of the all-encompassing future of Djingo, the response to the tongue-in-cheek question “When will the Djingo brand replace the Orange brand?“ was a decidedly pensive, “good question...”