As the name suggests, smart speakers are Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered devices that can do much more than just play music. These speakers definitely play music through various networking protocols. The wireless speakers play music via Bluetooth and NFC networking capabilities. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the functionalities they possess.

Smart Speakers are AI-based virtual assistants capable of comprehending voice commands. The speakers not only play music but can be used to save playlists, set alarms, and provide weather and traffic updates. Moreover, the speakers connect seamlessly with smart homes to take home automation to a whole new level.

The Evolution of Smart Speakers

Contrary to popular belief, smart speakers did not originate with Amazon’s Echo. The history traces back the evolution of virtual assistants to 1961. It was the year IBM introduced its proprietary product named Shoebox. The tool was able to comprehend sixteen different words and all of the digits.

The next major breakthrough in the field came in 1990 when a company named Dragon launched Dictate. It was the first speech recognition tool which was sold to consumers.

This opened up gates for multiple virtual assistants and the trend gained popularity with Siri’s introduction.

The iPhone based virtual assistant garnered popularity around the world and other companies followed Apple’s footsteps. The next in line was Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana soon followed.

The next groundbreaking discovery came in the form of Amazon Echo. Amazon’s smart speaker introduced Alexa, the company’s very own AI to the world. The launch of Echo marked the start of an AI-based era.

Smart Speakers on the Market

The smart speaker industry currently stands at a market value of $2.68 Billion. It is estimated that the industry will grow at 34 percent in the coming years to be valued at $11.79 Billion by 2023. These figures are not surprising for both the technological and financial experts. With increasing per capita income and technological advancement the trend seems to be ordinary.

Here are some of the best intelligent speakers available in the market:

Sonos One

Sonos One smart speaker

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Listed at a price of $199, the Sonos One offers the best surround sound to its customer in the category. Powered by Alexa, the Sonos One comes with a range of commands to control your music. The Sonos One also connects with other Sonos speakers to provide an immersive multi-room audio facility. However, the complete set of voice commands are available only for a restricted number of music services. Moreover, the speaker fails to understand the voice commands on occasions making it a big shortcoming for the company in the segment.

Related: 8 Unique Smart Home Devices and Automation Accessories

Apple Home Pod

Apple Home Pod range of smart speakers

Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, by Rick4512, via Commons Wikimedia

Apple launched its very own smart speaker two months ago to give both Amazon and Google a run for their money with Siri powering the Home Pod system. The speakers have a distinct edge over their other competitors when it comes to sound quality. The smart aspect of the Home Pod speakers is not up to the mark compared to the other competitors in the market. Siri struggles to unleash its powers with the device and lacks the edge required to outdo Alexa and Google Assistant. Moreover, to enjoy the experience that the speakers offer, the customers need the Apple Music subscription and to restrict themselves to the Apple environment.

Harman Kardon

Cortana powered Harman Kardon smart speaker

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Microsoft did not want to be left far behind in the new race of smart speakers and launched the Harman Kardon Invoke in 2017. The speaker, powered by Microsoft’s very own Cortana, amazes the users with its sound quality and design. Cortana entertains the users with a random fact when the blue button at the top of the speaker is tapped. Although Cortana has been in the market for far longer then Alexa, it lacks the sophistication that the Amazon virtual assistant possesses. The speaker works seamlessly with Microsoft services but lacks in the overall performance in the segment.

LG ThinQ

LG Thinq range of smart speakers to control different devices

Image: CC by 2.0, by LG전자, via Flickr

Like the other smart speakers in the segment, LG joined the party late. The ThinQ line of speakers comes with a potential to mesmerize the user with its immersive sound quality. LG has partnered with Meridian audio to go a step ahead when it comes to sound quality. On the smart aspect of the speakers, LG has partnered with Google. Powered by Google Assistant, you can summon the virtual assistant by saying “Ok Google” to get your things done. The other capability that sets it apart from other speakers in the segment is the presence of LG’s very own AI technology. The in-house AI features help control smart LG devices via voice commands. The company is branding it as a high-resolution speaker for the masses with smart technology being the secondary feature.

Google Home

Google home image showing smart speaker

Image CC by A-SA 4.0 International, by Daniel.Cardenas, via Wikimedia Commons

The first Google Home speaker was released in November 2016 in the United States of America and was an instant hit. The smart speaker integrates with Google Assistant, putting the trademark search engine at the users’ disposal. The speaker acts a music player along with allowing the users to control multiple smart devices with voice commands. The speaker works seamlessly with Android phones and multiple third-party applications. Moreover, with a range of Google devices such as Chromecast and Google TV, the speaker works perfectly to provide a hands-free experience to the users. Due to all these advantages, Google holds the second largest share in the market when it comes to smart speakers. It is available in a variety of models depending on size and technological advancements.

Related: 6 Best Tabletop Radios of 2018-2019

Amazon’s Echo

Amazon's Echo powered by Alexa was the first of its kind smart speaker

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Amazon released the Echo line of speakers in 2014 and became the first company to introduce AI based smart capabilities to the world. The Echo comes integrated with Alexa, Amazon’s in-house AI. The speaker maintains to-do lists, playlists for the users and provides scheduled updates on weather and traffic. It has in-built integration for applications like Spotify but its biggest strength is the Alexa Skill Kit. The Alexa Skill Kit is a collection of code samples and APIs that help developers add to the already existing database of skills the virtual assistant possesses.

Google Home vs Alexa – the Best Buy

Smart speakers have become a part of the lives of millions of people around the world. These people are finding it hard to imagine a life without the handy device. The giants that control this market are none other than Amazon and Google. Amazon with its Echo line of speakers powered by Alexa and Google with Google Home integrated with Google assistant. The only thing that is confusing is what to choose between the two.

Alexa’s sophisticated skill set

Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant powering Echo smart speaker

Image CC by , Amazon Echo Spot, via Wikimedia Commons

The consumer’s choice may vary depending on the devices they own and their different preferences. The Amazon’s Echo powered by Alexa offers a wide range of smart-home device support, the ability to stream music and superior sound quality to the Google Home speakers. However, what really differentiates it from Google Home is the ever-growing Alexa Skills. The growing list of skills includes reading recipes, unlocking smartphones, booking an Uber, ordering a Pizza and much more than answering general knowledge questions. The Alexa Skillset currently has about 15,000 similar skills to serve the users and entertain them. The company offers a range of models that are the Echo Dot, Echo Tap, Echo Show, Echo Spot and the Echo Look.

Google Home trumps Echo in synchronized playback

The Google Home, on the other hand, comes with the Google search engine at its disposal. The Google home answers questions in depth as compared to the Amazon Echo. The speakers work seamlessly with Android and Google devices. The smart speakers can synchronize the Gmail account and manage google calendar. It comes with an ability to manage six different accounts based on voice recognition system. With the help of the Chromecast, the user can synchronize multiple speakers in different rooms to play the same song. However, the Google assistant lacks in the smart capabilities that Alexa has developed due to its launch two years ahead of the former.

The average price of the Amazon Echo amounts to $100 while Google Home costs $129.

The Future of Smart Speakers

The future of smart speakers seems bright with experts speculating the virtual assistants to take care of the daily chores for the people. From ordering grocery to paying bills the realization of a robot helper from a Sci-Fi movie seems realistic. With multiple brands focusing on AI the scope for development is enormous and we may see innovation at its very best in the foreseeable future.


Featured Image: CC by 2.0, by NDB Photos, via Flickr