Amazon is the king of AI smart speakers. The company arguably created the category with the release of the Echo in 2014, and expanded it greatly with the introduction of the cheaper Echo Dot and a host of other Echo-branded devices.
The 2017 holiday shopping season was the biggest yet for Amazon, and devices like the Echo Dot once again proved to be hot items with customers. In fact, the Echo Dot was the best-selling Amazon-branded hardware device during the holiday season, with Amazon going to state that it was "the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon, with millions sold".
The Echo Dot has been priced at $29.99 for the past month or so (and even cheaper with Amazon hardware bundles), which no doubt sealed its fate as a hot-ticket item. The entire Echo family also proved to be a popular gift item, as witnessed by the Amazon Alexa app skyrocketing to the top of the iOS App Store during the holiday season.
The upward movement in the ranking of the Alexa app can be attributed to new Echo owners downloading the app to interface with the speaker. The app is the only way to setup an Echo or Echo Dot, and would only apply to newcomers to the Echo fold. According to TechCrunch, the Alexa app was ranked as low as in the 90s earlier this month before hitting the #1 position on Christmas Day. Currently, the Alexa app is sitting in the #2 position behind YouTube in the ranking for top free iOS apps.
This must be a bitter pill to swallow for Apple, which has seen Alexa-powered Echo devices invade its iOS ecosystem. Apple was supposed to have its competing HomePod AI smart speaker in stores in time for the Christmas shopping rush, but ended up delaying its introduction.
“We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers," said Apple in a statement last month. "We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”
The HomePod is powered by an Apple A8 SoC and runs a version of iOS. The smart speaker stands seven inches tall, features seven beam-forming tweeters in its base, an Apple-designed woofer for enhanced base and supports AirPlay 2.
Apple is targeting the HomePod in the premium sphere when it comes to smart speakers, with a price tag of $349. For comparison, the full-size Echo is priced at $99, while the Echo Plus is $149.99. Even Amazon's Echo Show, which is enhanced with a 7-inch LCD, "only" costs $229.