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Are smart speakers okay?

Hey Google, check on Alexa please

Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: A closer look at the fate of smart speakers and the assistants running on them, and an update on Roku’s latest streaming numbers.

A closer look at smart speakers in 2023

Smart speakers were once seen as the next big thing. A chance for companies like Amazon to own a massive platform with tens of thousands of developers and hundreds of millions of users. A new ecosystem that would eventually generate huge new income streams for device makers, skills developers and content producers alike.

However, in recent months, there have been lots of clouds on the horizon. Meta discontinued its Portal smart display. Google announced in April that it was ending support for third-party Google Assistant smart displays; the company recently reorganized its Assistant team to focus more on its new Bard AI, and less on hardware partnerships. Amazon laid off a large number of staffers working on its Alexa assistant, and a report described the project as being “on life support.” And in February, I reported that Roku had significantly scaled back its own smart speaker plans.

All of this makes you wonder: Are smart speakers going to be okay? Or are we starting to see an industry-wide retreat, perhaps in response to lackluster adoption from consumers? For today’s issue of Lowpass, I decided to dig into some recent data to find out.

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