An opinion piece by Pitchfork, published on June 29, 2018, explores the ways in which smart speakers are changing the way people listen to music and more. It reports how sales of smart speakers tripled between 2016 and 2017 and how this year, analysts expect sales of 60 million units globally.
According to a study conducted by NPR and Edison Research, 39 million Americans, or 16% of the country, owned a smart speaker as of January 2018. The study reports how Amazon is controlling the smart speaker market as of right now with the Amazon Echo, but that competition is on the rise with other smart speakers like Google’s Home, Apple’s Siri-run HomePod and Microsoft’s Cortana in the Harman Kardon speaker. Other companies like Samsung, Sonos, Panasonic and Sony are developing and launching their own version smart speakers as well.
NPR and Edison Research also report that streaming music was the most popular function of smart speakers: 60 percent of users surveyed asked their smart speaker to play music over asking general questions (30 percent) and getting the weather (28 percent). The popularity of music on these devices is not coincidental. The article says, “Three of the most valuable technology companies in the world are deploying interactive speakers to draw listeners to their branded music platforms…”
Music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal are all capitalizing on this popularity and are striving to give listeners an “ever-more-personalized and enjoyable user experience,” according to the Pitch article. Instead of downloading a song, curated playlists from these streaming services have become more popular. Amazon’s Music Director Ryan Redington discussed the “friction” before the streaming services and smart speakers were integrated. He said, “I used to get home, take out my phone, unlock it, find Amazon Music, find a playlist that I want to listen to, connect to Bluetooth or a receiver in my house, then start playing music.” According the Redington, with a smart speaker, all that technological friction disappears. It was not a coincidence that Amazon’s smart speaker and its music streaming service Prime Music were both launched within a couple months of each other, according to the Pitch article.
The article explains how this seamless environment is made possible from the metadata collected by listeners. On these steaming services, each individual track is appended with digital information that determines where and how it should circulate, meaning which curated playlist the song should be added to based on sales and musical activity. Artist and record companies also want a say in which playlists their songs are added too. For example, when Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett was featured on Amazon’s “Today in Music” program, her sales and streams increased immediately. One research firm claims that Amazon Music’s subscription numbers for their built-in listening feature are at 16 million, which is just behind Spotify and Amazon.
Freely accessible digital music is slowly integrating its way into being a necessity for the household. The article reports how these devices are part of a larger campaign to eventually network and connect our entire homes. Smart speakers have already started to do so. Amazon’s Echo can adjust your home’s thermostat and lock the doors and Google Home fits into its Nest System, which includes interconnected thermostats, cameras, doorbells, smoke alarms and more.
The companies behind smart speakers are making great strides in convincing more music listeners to listen via their smart speakers. One way that they are doing so is providing a list of sample questions and commands that tells listeners how to interact with the speaker. The Pitch article reports how nowadays, smart speakers can facilitate normal conversations with listeners, similar to the “What’s happening” prompt on Twitter and Facebook’s, “What’s on your mind” prompt. Music may just be the starting point for now, however, the future of interactive artificial intelligence seamlessly integrated into our lives is just beginning.