As Google Home Gains Market Share, Google Starts Investment Fund To Promote Its Voice-Activated Assistant

The move to create a special investment fund aimed at developers for Google Assistant follows Amazon's own effort to build up services for Alexa.

Google may have been playing catch-up to to Amazon Echo and its voice-activated assistant, Alexa, when it launched a year-and-a-half ago, but the distance in market share between the two is rapidly shrinking, according to eMarketer.

As such, the timing appears to be perfect for Google to follow in Amazon’s steps yet again with the unveiling of an investment program aimed at startups creating capabilities and services for the Google Assistant (aka “Okay Google”) that powers Google Home devices, as well as across Google Android smartphones, its Chrome browser, and the standalone assistant app available on rival Apple’s iPhone.

The Shifting Smart Speaker Landscape

By the end of 2018, 40.7 million people in the U.S. will use an Amazon Echo at least once a month, equating to two-thirds of smart speaker users. However, that share is expected to fall to 60.8 percent by 2020, according to eMarketer.

As the “number two” player, Google Home will have 18.0 million users this year. Although its status as a distant second in terms of users is not expected to change over the next year or two, Google Home’s share is steadily growing.

In 2018, Google Home will capture 29.5 percent of the smart speaker audience, and that figure will grow to nearly 33 percent by 2020.

“Google Home’s competitively priced Mini drove growth for the brand in the 2017 holiday season,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Jaimie Chung. “With Amazon and Google vying for spots in both the smart-home and e-commerce spaces, Google’s pricing has revitalized the artificial intelligence race to dominate the home.”

Meanwhile, the Google Assistant can connect with more than 5,000 devices for your home—up from 1,500 this January, the company says in a blog post. That includes cameras, dishwashers, doorbells, dryers, lights, plugs, thermostats, security systems, switches, vacuums, washers, fans, locks, sensors, heaters, AC units, air purifiers, refrigerators, ovens. As Michele Turner, director, Smart Home Ecosystem for Google, writes, “we can keep on going!”

Now, almost three years after Amazon established the Alexa Fund to help startups create new features that work with the e-tail giant’s digital assistant, Google is turning on its investment spigot to better compete.

Taking Action

In Google Assistant parlance, the capabilities associated with its use are called “actions.” That’s akin to Amazon Alexa “skills,” that serve as shortcuts for brands and users to communicate requests for certain information and initiate an activity like ordering a product or booking a reservation.

“Developers have created a wide range of Actions—some practical, some inspirational—that help you get things done in new ways we couldn’t have predicted just a few years ago, whether that’s helping you control your smart home, find subway times, or even helping you meditate,” write Sanjay Kapoor, Vice President, Corporate Development, and Nick Fox, VP of Product, Google, in a blog post announcing the investment fund.

“To promote more of this creativity, we’re opening a new investment program for early-stage startups that share our passion for the digital assistant ecosystem, helping to push new ideas forward and advance the possibilities of what digital assistants can do,” say Kapoor and Fox.

This new program will consist of several components:

  • Investment capital from Google to provide additional financial resources for the development, hiring, and management of these startups.
  • Advice from Google engineers, product managers, and design experts to share technical guidance and product development feedback.
  • Google partnership programs that provide early access to upcoming features and tools so startups can bring their products to market as quickly as possible.
  • Access to the Google Cloud Platform, our suite of cloud computing services that run on the same infrastructure that we use for products like Google Search and YouTube.
  • Promotional support through Google marketing channels to drive greater awareness for the features and functionality of these new applications.

Google is seeking to attract startup development across a diverse range of fields with the hope expanding the Assistant’s set of features. In addition to software to run programs, Google is also looking to support companies building new hardware devices for digital assistants generally, or that focus on a particular industry such as travel, games, or hospitality.

Some examples of the startups Google is funding include:

  • GoMoment: Creator of Ivy, a 24/7 concierge for hotel guests, capable of providing instant answers to common questions like “Is there a happy hour at the bar tonight?” or “Can I get a late checkout?” Anything requiring human expertise is sent to hotel staff and tracked for quick and reliable resolution. Ivy is used by leading hotels like Caesars Palace, Treasure Island and Hard Rock.
  • Edwin: Your personal English tutor powered by AI. Edwin prepares students looking to take English as a foreign language tests, such as the “Test of English as a Foreign Language” (TOEFL). Edwin combines advanced AI technology with the expertise of professional English teachers to tailor every lesson to your individual needs, learning style and pace.
  • BotSociety: You can say a million things in a billion different ways to voice assistants, so BotSociety created a tool that allows developers to design, prototype and user test voice interfaces. More than 30,000 developers worldwide have designed their voice assistant applications using Botsociety.
  • Pulse Labs: Helping voice application designers understand what their users want to do. With Pulse Labs, developers can test their applications with real people, quickly acquire in-depth insights, and use that feedback to refine the experience.

Perhaps the primary template for this activity can be seen by looking back to the early days of the iPhone in 2007. In its first version, the Apple smartphone didn’t have “apps” or an App Store to make the breakthrough touchscreen device so useful. In many ways, the most beneficial tools came from outside of Apple’s offices  by startups looking to capitalize on consumers’ interest.

As Amazon and Google compete to be known as the standard for Connected Intelligence-powered voice-activated assistants, both know that the real use cases to truly make these devices ubiquitous will come from outside their respective bubbles.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.