Home / Tech / China has become the new global leader in smart speaker shipments (BABA, GOOGL, AMZN)

China has become the new global leader in smart speaker shipments (BABA, GOOGL, AMZN)

Global smart speaker shipments experienced upheaval in Q1 2019, with the US and China swapping spots as the largest market by shipments, according to Canalys. The US accounted for just 24% of smart speaker shipments in Q1 2019, down from 44% in Q4 2018, while China grew almost 500% from the previous quarter to account for 51% of the market.

US Smart Speakers' Meteroric Growth to Slow as Devices Move Mainstream

Here’s what it means: The Chinese smart speaker market is gaining traction, as its share of shipments reached an all-time high.

  • Chinese smart speaker makers Alibaba, Baidu, and Xiaomi all experienced meteoric growth in Q1. Alibaba’s smart speaker shipments grew over 200% YoY to 3.2 million, Xiaomi’s grew over 400% YoY to 3.2 million, and Baidu was able to ship the most smart speakers of the three (3.3 million) despite only entering the market in Q2 2018. 
  • The Chinese smart speaker market, led by the above-mentioned companies, shipped more units than the US market, led by Google and Amazon. Google and Amazon shipped 8.1 million smart speakers in Q1 2019, while the trio of major Chinese vendors shipped a collective 9.7 million smart speakers. None of the Chinese players have individually surpassed Amazon or Google in shipments yet, though.
  • Chinese companies enjoy native advantages in their home market compared with US competitors. US companies like Amazon and Google are at a disadvantage in China because they lack the same working relationships that likely exist between Chinese device makers and Chinese tech companies that make ubiquitous platforms like WeChat. Moreover, US companies likely lack access to an established local developer community for their products. These weaker relationships can leave their devices with poor integrations with popular local apps and services, or without access completely, making their devices less attractive to consumers.

The bigger picture: As the US smart speaker market begins to leave its growth stage and enter a maturity stage, Amazon and Google will likely find it difficult to maintain their spots as the top global smart speaker providers, and will turn to services to drive higher revenue as growth slows.

In 2018, 35% of US smart speaker households owned more than one smart speaker, up from 18% a year earlier. To capitalize on the existing base of US smart speakers, market leaders Amazon and Google can turn to services such as voice app stores and subscription services to drive higher revenue.

Amazon already has a wide offering of almost 60,000 voice apps for its Alexa-enabled smart speakers, while Google has just over 4,000. The companies can monetize these apps by taking a cut of the apps’ revenue and in-app purchases, like Apple does from its App Store, for example.

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