Google wins first round in the battle for the living room

Smart speakers were only about developing a new dynamic in the relationship between the OTTs and the consumer, and Walmart’s new ‘Voice Order’ feature is a taste of things to come.

The new initiative from Walmart is perfect for the Google smart speaker ecosystem, as it plays to the strengths of the internet giant. By simply saying ‘Hey Google, talk to Walmart’ consumers will be able to use their voice to build shopping lists with the grocery mammoth, using any device which has the Google Assistant installed on it.

“With the new voice ordering capabilities we’re building across platforms with partners like Google, we’re helping customers simply say the word to have Walmart help them shop … literally,” said Tom Ward, SVP of Digital Operations at Walmart US.

Of course, the application will not be perfect to start with, but as with anything intelligence related it can be trained and personalised to each individual. At the beginning, users will have to specify what products to put into the cart, but soon enough the virtual assistant will remember these purchases. Saying ‘milk’ won’t put any brand or product into the cart, but the one you bought last time.

This is the futuristic world Silicon Valley had in mind when it started rolling smart speakers out to the world, and we imagine it won’t be too long before the innovation starts catching on.

Although some might suggest Google and Amazon have ambitions to disrupt the audio industry with the launch of their own smart speakers, this was most likely a ploy to drive user acceptance and demonstrate to the mainstream brands there is consumer appetite. If you actually look at the products which Google and Amazon have been championing, they would not compete with the calibre which could be manufactured by the likes of Bose or Bang & Olufsen, but it did start to get consumers using smart speakers.

Google and Amazon are the top-sellers of smart speakers across the world, with Amazon claiming to have now sold more than 100 million products, but the traditional audio giants are starting to release their own products. Sonos is releasing models, so is Samsung. But the traditional audio brands do not have the software smarts to create their own virtual assistants, this is where the likes of Google and Amazon come in.

Sooner or later, smart speakers will be the norm, with the internet giants battling for access to the consumer. A walled garden business model can be created, with the virtual assistant monetizing relationships between the consumer and a third-party. This creates a new dynamic between the consumer and Silicon Valley, offering more opportunities for the internet giants to sell to third-parties, and it looks like Google has won round one in the fight for control of the living room.

Walmart has said other assistants will be available to place orders before too long, but Google was selected as the first partner. This could mean one of two things. Firstly, Google nailed the partnership, commercial elements and technical issues to all for such a feature to be introduced. Then again, it could have paid for the right to be first.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise Google has won the first round here. While Amazon fortunes emerged from hosting an online marketplace and creating a dominant public cloud platform, this sort of feature is true to Google heritage. The Google dominance was created through software, intelligent algorithms and monetizing third-party relationships online. This is nothing more than an extension of this expertise onto a new user interface.

Whichever the case, it is largely irrelevant. Google is now ahead of Amazon when it comes to monetizing the voice user interface. This is a big step forward for the digital economy, and while it might be early days, it does give an indication of the futuristic world we are hurtling towards. With more ‘intelligent’ devices emerging, Google and Amazon could be set to become a lot more powerful and influential.

Walmart wants to deliver straight to your fridge

Walmart wants to raise the stakes in the connected economy with a new service that gets delivery drivers to pack your groceries away as well.

Before you get too excited, you can’t sit on the sofa and shout directions, it is for those who aren’t at home. As opposed to leaving your groceries outside for the neighbours to see you alcohol consumption or dirty little secret, the driver will enter the home, put packages inside the front door and groceries away in your refrigerator.

In partnership with smart home company August Home, delivery drivers will be given a code to enter into your smart lock, which will grant one-time access to complete the delivery, assuming no-one answers the doorbell first of course. When the doorbell is rung, customers receive a notification; either you can answer the door IRL or hit a button and the code is sent to the driver.

“What might seem novel today could be the standard tomorrow,” Walmart said on its blog. “This may not be for everyone – and certainly not right away – but we want to offer customers the opportunity to participate in tests today and help us shape what commerce will look like in the future.”

It sounds like an idea which is perfect for some, but in truth there will currently be a very small number who will be ready to even consider the service. It is a massive cultural shift; the idea of having a stranger in the home might make some people nervous when they are there, the thought of an unsupervised person in your home will be way too much. Most people are not that trusting, and it will be a while before they are.

But of course Walmart has an idea here. Once the delivery person rings the door bell and enters the one-time, unique code into your smart lock, you can watch the progress of the delivery on your smartphone through the home security cameras that you have had installed in your home. Sounds sensible right? We see three issues with this idea though.

Firstly, who has a security camera inside their home? Your correspondent isn’t too sure whether he knows anyone paranoid enough to install cameras throughout the inside of their house. There are a few friends and acquaintances who would only use apps like Signal just in case the government wants to keep tabs on a 41 year-old, divorced dentist, but this takes crazy to another level.

Secondly, if a person is likely to be of the mind set believing they need security cameras inside the home, do you honestly think these are going to be the same people who will let a stranger into their home unsupervised? Are initial inclination is no.

Finally, if you do not have the time to sit in the house and unpack a delivery, are you the sort of person who will be able to stop what you are doing and watch this individual, making sure they aren’t putting the tomatoes in the wrong drawer or something more nefarious. Part of the reason for home deliveries is because you want to do something else, but let me pull over on the motorway for 25 minutes while I watch the Walmart delivery person put my ice cream in the freezer.

There are plenty of ideas which are good ones, and plenty of good ones which just come at the wrong time. For example, virtual assistants are catching now, but years ago it was a ridiculous idea. This might be the way the world is going, but this is one idea which is just way too early. Then again, there could be an army of crafty husbands looking to impress their wives from the comfort of their offices; ‘look Honey, I did the shopping and put it away before you got home’.