Smart speakers and digitised helpers have been cited as this year’s big fish in New Zealand - and warring virtual assistants from Amazon's Alexa to Google Assistant, Apple's Siri, Samsung Bixby and Microsoft Cortana are hot on the tech scene.
Of these, Amazon’s release of Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot speakers will be coming to New Zealand in early February. The interactive, interoperable smart speaker can accomplish a long list of mundane tasks; such as turn on the lights, play music, order pizza and more recently, supply snippets of news.
Alexa is the brains behind the family of Amazon Echo smart products and will be a key feature of the Amazon speakers.
The Business Insider predicted the total number of Americans using voice-activated assistant devices was 35.6 million in 2017 and Amazon accounted for 70.6 percent of the voice-enabled speaker market in the U.S.
On local soil, vying media organisations NZME, Fairfax, and TVNZ have pounced on the opportunity to collaborate with the Amazon Echo smart speakers. The ploy will cater to the changing expectations among audiences to access news, entertainment, and information.
So, how will the fusion of virtual assistants and media perform in New Zealand?
Amazon Alexa's launch will enable users to activate one minute of nationwide news, by simply stating “Alexa, play my flash briefing” or "Alexa, what is the news today?", and its making news organisations excited.
The user will be offered the choice of minute-long news bulletins provided by Stuff, The Herald, Newstalk ZB or 1 News.
Stuff editor Patrick Crewdson believes “Stuff’s flash briefing will be a swift and snappy shot of local news for listeners”.
Meanwhile, NZME has contributed three skills to Alexa, allowing Kiwis to stay up to date with the latest news via The Herald, Newstalk ZB flash briefings as well as be entertained with ZM’s on demand.
Chief digital officer at NZME Laura Maxwell says Alexa can help you do thousands of things.
"Now that includes staying up to date on the latest news and sports happening here and around the world.”
TVNZ’s1 News has also launched a skill on the Amazon Echo speakers, which enables Alexa to read out the news bulletin that is updated twice daily.
TVNZ’s head of news and current affairs, John Gillespie, says the 1 News skill for Alexa gives New Zealanders an innovative way to access the latest local and international headlines, making it easier than ever to stay up to date with breaking news stories that matter.
MediaWorks is yet to disclose its plans in regard to virtual assistants, however, a spokesperson believes it will have some exciting product developments coming in the smart assistant space.
According to TechCrunch, the original Apple virtual assistant, ‘Siri’, remains the most popular with 41.4 million monthly active users in the U.S, however, it has dropped 15 percent since last year, equivalent to 7.3 million users.
Correlated to the decline in monthly users is the exponential growth of the Amazon Alexa usage – up 325 percent in monthly active users, according to the same source.
Amazon Echo has harnessed voice activation software in the home, while consumers were ambivalent about using ‘Siri’ in public spaces according to The Business Insider. It says people are embarrassed by 'Siri' and reports only three percent of American users activate 'Siri' in public.
The bucking trend of voice computing in the comfort of the user's home is also likely to increase the time that consumers spend online, according to a Verto analysis.
However, not everybody is sold - sceptics of Amazon’s smart speaker are unsure what to do with virtual assistants, including a statement by Justin Hosseininejad in the New York Times, who suggests smart speakers are "a solution looking for a problem".
SKY TV is also planning to develop a skill with Amazon for launch next month, focused on content discovery. It is currently working with Rush Digital on the project.
Although Bauer is yet to disclose a concrete release, it has plans on the horizon for voice-activated search, including projects across a number of brands such as a possible Noted/Amazon Alexa collaboration.