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The holidays ushered in a smart speaker explosion starring Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant

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© Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

By Rani Molla, Recode

Smart speaker sales grew 78 percent in 2018.

If you received a tech gift this holiday season, there’s a good chance it was a smart speaker. Nearly one in 10 people got a smart speaker over the holidays, bringing the total number of smart speakers in circulation in the US to around 119 million, according to a new survey by NPR and Edison Research

That’s 78 percent growth since NPR conducted this study last year. For context, smartphone shipments shrank 6 percent globally in the third quarter of 2018, compared with a year earlier, due to smartphone saturation in the US and other markets. The next great consumer electronics wave is being led by smart speakers and their virtual assistants. 

The growth has been helped by new offerings and low price points from market leaders Amazon and Google, which together claim about 85 percent of the smart speakers installed in the US. It’s likely Amazon and Google are using smart speakers as loss leaders in an attempt to get consumers entrenched in their ecosystems and, by extension, their other products and services. 

The new speaker sales mean that 21 percent* of the population now owns a smart speaker, according to NPR, up from 16 percent at the end of the 2017 holiday season. More than 50 percent of those people own two or more. 

The rise of smart speakers has led to a rise in people figuring out just what to do with devices that I argue haven’t yet found their true calling

For many, that’s meant buying “smart home” devices — appliances like thermostats and locks that can be controlled from anywhere, often using voice commands. IDC estimated last year that the worldwide smart home device market would rise 31 percent in 2018. The research company expects double-digit growth in smart home devices through 2022.

Controlling visual and audio media — Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, NPR — through smart speakers has been the most successful manifestation of voice technology. Somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent of smart speaker users say they have streamed music on a smart speaker, depending on the study. Meanwhile, voice shopping has yet to take off

The NPR data is based on a 1,000-person national phone survey conducted from December 26 to 30, 2018.

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: The holidays ushered in a smart speaker explosion starring Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant
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