Facebook is working on a new voice assistant to rival Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.
Details and Implications:
The story, broken by CNBC and later confirmed by a Facebook spokesperson in an email to Reuters, revealed Facebook is working on its second attempt to develop an assistant after the failure of the ‘M’ assistant for Messenger – a project that Facebook launched in 2015 and killed last year.
According to the Facebook spokesperson the company is working to develop: “voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus and future products.”
The CNBC story was based on interviews with two former Facebook employees that said that the development of the new assistant was based out of Redmond, Washington and is being led by Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant. They further suggested that this team had been contacting vendors in the smart speaker supply chain.
Competition is fierce to own the digital assistant space – the next key battleground as the world moves to a voice-controlled interface. Amazon (alexa), Alibaba (Tmall Genie), Google (Assistant), Microsoft (Cortana) and Samsung (Bixby) all have their own assistants and Facebook is keen to join the crowd.
The smart speaker is one of the fastest adopted technologies in history. In the US adoption has reached 66 million units according to research firm CIRP, led by Amazon’s Alexa (70% share), whilst in China adoption will rise 166% in 2019 to an installed base of 59.9 million according to a forecast this week from Canalys, led by the ‘Tmall Genie’ from Alibaba.
The proposed Facebook assistant would be a natural accompaniment for both the recently launched Facebook Portal video chat camera and Oculus, allowing hands free control of virtual reality experiences.
Voice commerce sales are relatively small at present, $2bn in the US according to estimates by research firm OC&C but that could rise to $40bn by 2022 – hence the huge interest from Facebook to make sure that it doesn’t miss a very lucrative boat.
Details are sparse at present, but it is not that surprising that Facebook is looking to develop a capability in the voice assistant space. How that voice assistant is integrated into the company’s various platforms and what tasks it will allow you to perform will give an idea as to where Facebook feels the biggest opportunity lies.
Integration with Portal will not only enhance the device as a smart calling device, but would open it up to much more functionality – including commerce and a possible lucrative revenue stream. Integration into Oculus, coupled with 5G, would allow the creation of much more immersive experiences – even before you start to think about other AR/VR capabilities – and would bolster the appeal of Oculus to consumers.