Amazon Echo, Google Home: How Europe fell in love with smart speakers

Smart speakers take off in Europe despite worries that they're always listening to what's said in the home.

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Europeans are embracing smart speakers from Google, Amazon and Apple despite concerns about the technology's potential to invade privacy in the home. 

The race is on to develop the smartest speaker of them all, with the Google Assistant-powered Google Home currently in the lead on understanding questions and giving the right answers, according to one IQ test. Apple's Siri-based HomePod is catching up with Google, while Amazon's Echo devices enjoy the largest marketshare worldwide, with the largest number of buyers coming from the US followed by China.  

But even in privacy-sensitive Europe, more people are now willing to bring smart speakers in the privacy of their own homes. 

According to analyst IDC, smart speaker sales exploded in Europe in the third quarter, growing 116.7 percent compared to last year — even before Google and Amazon expand the availability of Echo and Home speakers to Italy and Spain. 

"Although Amazon and Google didn't launch their speakers in new markets in the region, their performance was exceptionally good, fueled by continued growth in consumer demand. In 4Q18, the market will continue to expand, as Google Home enters four new markets and Amazon Echo devices launch in Italy and Spain," said António Arantes, research analyst for smart home devices in EMEA.

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"Strong promotions during Black Friday continued to drive tracking for smart speakers and the discounts during the Christmas season will further drive strong performance for these products and help increase penetration of intelligent assistants in the region."

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IDC believes smart speakers will be the main engine of growth in smart home purchases in coming years. It forecasts general smart home products will reach 193 million units by 2022, growing 19.2 percent per year over the coming four years. By 2022, it expects smart speaker shipments to reach 45 million units per year, accounting for 23.3 percent of smart home purchases by then.  

While smart TVs and devices like Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV  will continue to dominate smart home purchases, IDC expects smart speakers will be the second largest category by 2022.  

In the third quarter, Amazon's Echo devices accounted for over half of all smart speakers shipped to Europe, followed by Google Home, which accounted for 38.8 percent of smart speakers.  Apple's HomePod was hampered by limited availability, but it nonetheless was the third largest shipping smart speaker. IDC expect shipments of devices with Google Assistant to surpass devices powered by Amazon Alexa. 

Amazon this week boasted there were now 28,000 Alexa compatible smart home devices from over 4,500 brands available worldwide. 

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