As 2017 comes to an end, it looks like another successful year for voice assistant devices targeted for use in the home. Unit sales for the Amazon Echo and Google Home are estimated to be in the millions.

Today, surveys show that the Amazon Echo/Alexa has approximately 70% market share of voice assistant devices and Google Home has 29%.

Soon joining the fray are the Apple HomePod and the Sonos One. The new entrants will try and grab their share of the 325 million households in the United States.

As the competition for the household becomes entrenched, late entrants need to strategically think where to go to next.

So, the question is... What is the next market opportunity for the voice assistant device?

We need to think of places that have the same qualities as the household:

  • A voice interface is the preferred method compared to touching a screen. (Why get off the couch?)
  • You have the undivided attention of the user for long periods of time.
  • It's easier to place a standalone device into the environment compared to integrating with existing service providers or technologies.
  • We need a large number of places to put these devices (think in the tens of millions).
  • And most of all, none of the existing competitors have grabbed market share in these locations just yet!

So where is this magical place?

It's the 263 million cars in the United States and the 1.2 billion cars in the world

Here's why:

There is a huge problem with the way automobiles and mobile devices work together and it makes so much sense for voice assistants to tackle it now:

  1. There are too many distracted drivers on the road today. Distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015 alone.
  2. People do not unplug - even with new laws and all the public safety messages, people are still holding and touching their phones will driving.
  3. Mobile phones were not designed for safe use in the car:
    • Mobile phones have screens which cause people to take their eyes off the road (large or small screens, makes no difference).
    • Mobile phones have keyboards and touch interfaces that require precision accuracy to make them work.
    • Siri and the Google Assistant on your phone require button pressing and dont have the same quality microphones as a voice assistant devices do.
  4. Millions of cars do not have the technology to make mobile device usage safer.
    • Bluetooth is becoming more and more available but still missing in older cars. Plus, it's really hard to retrofit a car without it.
    • Newer model cars now have voice recognition but that's only in the last four years and usually costs $300 dollars or more.
  5. Existing car technologies like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are designed to work with built-in automobile screens. Plus, they were initially designed before voice assistance devices really took off.
  6. And most importantly, it will take at least 10 years before most cars have either an Android Auto or Apple CarPlay built-in.

The market potential is huge

Just read the latest US Census and industry research data and you will see that there is a large number of vehicles where standalone voice assistant devices could be targeted:

  • As of 2016, there are 263 million cars in the US and over 1.2 billion cars globally according to a recent IHS Market survey.
  • One out of every four vehicles in the U.S. were built before the year 2000 (around 65 million). That's way before Bluetooth, Apple Carplay or Android Auto were introduced. And that number does not consider the cars sold after 2000 that still do not have these technologies installed.
  • The average car age is 11.4 years old.
  • The US Census's 2015 American Community Survey shows that the average American commute crept up to 26.4 minutes in 2015. That's a lot of time in the car each day.

Voice assistance devices can be quickly designed for the car

Tech companies just need to make a safer version of their voice assistant device for the car. Here's a list of design requirements that come to mind:

  1. Works in all cars (not just the newly manufactured ones).
  2. Has a built-in speaker and microphone (put a checkmark in the done column).
  3. Easier and safer to use than taking your mobile phone out while driving.
  4. Easier than putting on a Bluetooth earpiece. (So 10 years ago!)
  5. Needs to be easy to set up and fits securely to prevent flying around when the car is starting, stopping and turning.
  6. Allows the driver to say commands, ask questions and get information without taking hands off the wheel and eyes off the road.
  7. Has access to the internet and cellular services (This will be a tougher one since it needs integration without making it expensive or hard to setup).
  8. The device can make or receive phone calls, text messages, driving directions and get information from the internet.
  9. Priced appropriately so many people can afford to buy it.

While there are many more requirements (e.g. Plugs into the car's ODB II port or has an application development software development kit), the list above contains the most important requirements (think safety).

Oh yeah, one more thing... the product marketing should resonate well towards existing car owners.

For example, here's a potential description of the product:

DriveSafe by [Insert Manufacturer Here], the voice-activated companion that lets you safely make phone calls, receive texts, get driving directions, and much, much more. No headsets, no modifying your dashboard, just plug it into your cigarette lighter and it’s ready to go.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts:

  1. What do you think of the approach?
  2. Which company do you think is best positioned to do this?
  3. What other design constraints need to be considered?

Leave a comment to get the conversation started.