Christmas Day 2018 will see any number of brand-new voice assistants take their very first glimpse of the world. Plugged in to charge for the first time, their cameras will take in the cosy candlelight of the Christmas tree while their microphones pick up the voices of their future, human families. Find out which manufacturers are seeing this marketing dream become a reality, as well as how Bing is transforming itself in the world of assisted shopping, in the last SEO News of 2018.

Voice assistants amid the Christmas madness

Christmas is a celebration of love for all the family. This year too, we can expect to see that circle of loved ones grow a little wider, with the addition of more omnipresent voice assistants. And if Alexa and the like were among the top picks to grace last year’s Christmas tree, with market leader Amazon reporting the sale of several million Alexa models in time for Christmas 2017, this year likewise finds us glued to the sales figures in anticipation. At the same time, we find ourselves wondering whether the trend will solidify to seal the devices’ status as a staple product, and who will finally emerge victorious in the race for market dominance. For now, 2018 has seen the competition grow stronger, with some of the biggest rivals succeeding in significantly expanding their market share. According to corporate consultants Strategy Analytics, the world’s largest shopping platform from Seattle remains the market leader for the time being, accounting for around 75 percent of all smart speakers. When it comes to year-on-year growth, however, Amazon’s lead is threatened by Google with its Google Home assistant. After managing to increase its sales by more than 420 percent, the search engine giant from Mountain View now holds second place in the ranking, with just under 16 percent of the market. Especially striking, though, is the fact that the joint market share held by Amazon and Google has fallen year-on-year from around 90 percent to just 69 percent, with competitors from Asia gaining the most ground. China’s answer to Amazon, Alibaba, for example, presented an assistant at Canadian AI conference NeurIPS which seemed to match technology leader Google completely when it comes to the range of abilities featured. Just as Google made the headlines at its development conference with a spectacular phone conversation between man and machine (see our report), Alibaba too chose a human conversation to demonstrate a development version of its own assistant, AliGenie. Put to the test arranging a delivery date, Alibaba’s machine kept a cool head even when hit with interposed questions. The system was even able to draw the correct conclusions about the delivery destination from indirect hints supplied by its human conversation partner – a challenge which has so far proven to be more than other voice assistants can handle. Unlike Alexa and Google Home, which are intended to establish themselves as smart speakers for our living environment, Alibaba is directly integrating its own voice assistant into the business processes of its own corporation. According to the company, telephone orders, price comparisons and delivery management are set to be the first areas of activity to benefit from the assistance of the AliGenie system. And just how far the digital world is split, even in the realm of voice assistants, is demonstrated just as much by sales figures from China as it is elsewhere. According to data provided by Strategy Analytics, in 2017 Google managed to sell the world’s biggest market just half a million of its voice assistant devices. By comparison, the number of smart speakers sold in the USA is already nearing the 50 million mark. The race is therefore still far from decided, and the future of voice search technology as open-ended as ever.

Shopping over searching

Microsoft has fitted out its search engine Bing with a range of new functions intended to help support users who are looking to make a purchase. The tech giant from Redmond chose Black Friday as an ideal opportunity to present these new capabilities. Some of the new functions had even been conceived especially with Black Friday in mind, and were only available for this day. While the majority of the functionalities will be available all-year-round, they are intended to be especially helpful in the pre-Christmas period. With a product comparison function created specifically to compare mobile phones, Bing displays ratings, expert reviews, and product highlights prominently over organic search results. According to Microsoft, this will make it easier to follow the latest hardware trends on the mobile phone market.

A second function presents products in a table comparing featured snippets. Searching for the superlative “best laptop” (see our report), for example, results in a comparative overview that includes product pictures, a list of functions, and links to further information. This is not an extension of Bing Shopping, however, but instead deals in organic search results. Only the exclusive Black Friday function was available via Bing Shopping, enabling users to rummage through local and interregional flyers filled with offers for the biggest discount battle of the year. While Google is attempting to remove its shopping product from the supervisory authorities’ firing line with the help of dubious competition, Microsoft is putting its money on organic search innovations as it has often done in the past. This goes to show that whether or not a search engine is entirely dependent on advertising revenues does make a difference, after all.

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