eMarketer: Amazon took 2/3 of smart speaker sales in 2018, but Echo will feel the squeeze in 2019

Smart speakers that let you control services and other connected devices in your home will continue to be a popular gift choice during the holiday season and into next year, when usage is set to rise by 15 percent, to 74.2 million people in the U.S., working out to 26.8 percent of the U.S. population, according to estimates from eMarketer.

But while Amazon’s Echo helped to define and still dominates the market, consumers’ love affair with Alexa may be cooling, just a little, as the Echo is finally starting to feel the heat from competitors like Home from Google, Apple’s HomePod and the Sonos One.

A new report estimates that the Echo will have accounted for nearly 67 percent of all smart speaker sales in the U.S. in 2018, with Google taking 29.5 percent and others at 8.3 percent. But by next year, Amazon will drop to 63 percent, Google will bump up to 31 percent and a plethora of smaller OEMs will collectively take 12 percent. Three percent decline doesn’t sound like a lot, but it will be the first time ever that Amazon will have dropped below two-thirds of sales. (And for the record, eMarketer research from the U.K. found similar numbers and declines.)

eMarketer believes this could be the beginning of a gradual decline for the e-commerce giant that will continue through 2020 as the next wave of adopters increasingly explore other brands.

“Consumers in the market for a smart speaker have more options than ever, and Amazon will lose some of its majority share as a result,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Jaimie Chung, in a statement. “Google has the Home Mini and Home Hub to compete with Amazon’s Echo Dot and Echo Show, and both the Apple HomePod and Facebook Portal will experience their first holiday season this year. Amazon has remained relevant by plugging Alexa into premium speakers like the Sonos, but even Sonos plans to bring Google Assistant to its devices next year, keeping the two companies neck and neck in the voice assistant race.”

There is a valid question to be asked about what people use their speakers for once they do have them. The main takeaway it seems is that while some device makers may turn speakers into a tidy business, it might be some time before the apps and software built around them monetises as lucratively.

For now, the main purpose seems to be listening to audio, where smart speakers provide a handy way to call up music and hear it — which 79.8 percent of speaker owners say they have done — one reason perhaps that the Sonos and Apple’s HomePod are making some inroads since both companies have put music at the core of their experience.

Second most common usage? Inquiries at 73 percent, which is an area where search giant Google is particularly strong.

Amazon has also made Alexa, in her own way, also a fairly amusing, and sometimes helpful, assistant on various topics, helped significantly by all the skills integrations that have been built. However, one key Alexa/Echo use case for the company has always been voice commerce, providing a new interface for people to be able to shop, to fit scenarios where a screen and keyboard are not as convenient.

For now, however, eMarketer says that this a less popular usage for these devices, and that overall voice commerce will remain a very niche slice of the e-commerce market, accounting for just 0.4 percent of sales, or $2 billion. Some 27 percent of speaker owners will experiment with buying something via voice commerce next year — a number that eMarketer revised down from an earlier estimate of 31 percent, while 37.1 percent will “shop” using their smart speakers — that is, ask questions about products, if not actually buy them.

Bad news for all the companies thinking that smart speakers will usher in a new era of smart home device usage: smart home integrations are used by just 34.5 percent of smart speaker users.


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Author: Ingrid Lunden

Drones ground flights at UK’s second largest airport

Mystery drone operator/s have grounded flights at the U.K.’s second largest airport, disrupting the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people hoping to get away over the festive period.

The BBC reports that Gatwick Airport’s runway has been shut since Wednesday night on safety grounds, after drones were spotted being flown repeatedly over the airfield.

It says airlines have been advised to cancel all flights up to at least 16:00 GMT, with the airport saying the runway would not open “until it was safe to do so.”

More than 20 police units are reported to be searching for the drone operator/s.

The U.K. made amendments to existing legislation this year to make illegal flying a drone within 1km of an airport after a planned drone bill got delayed.

The safety focused tweak to the law five months ago also restricted drone flight height to 400 ft. A registration scheme for drone owners is also set to be introduced next year.

Under current U.K. law, a drone operator who is charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or a person in an aircraft can face a penalty of up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both.

Although, in the Gatwick incident case, it’s not clear whether simply flying a drone near a runway would constitute an attempt to endanger an aircraft under the law. Even though the incident has clearly caused major disruption to travelers as the safety-conscious airport takes no chances.

Further adding to the misery of disrupted passengers today, the Civil Aviation Authority told the BBC it considered the event to be an “extraordinary circumstance” — meaning airlines aren’t obligated to pay financial compensation.

There’s been a marked rise in U.K. aircraft incidents involving drones over the past five years, with more than 100 recorded so far this year, according to data from the U.K. Airprox Board.

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg faced a barrage of questions about the Gatwick disruption in the House of Lords today, including accusations the government has dragged its feet on bringing in technical specifications that might have avoided the disruption.

“These drones are being operated illegally… It seems that the drones are being used intentionally to disrupt the airport, but, as I said, this is an ongoing investigation,” she told peers, adding: “We changed the law earlier this year, bringing in an exclusion zone around airports. We are working with manufactures and retailers to ensure that the new rules are communicated to those who purchase drones.

“From November next year, people will need to register their drone and take an online safety test. We have also recently consulted on extending police powers and will make an announcement on next steps shortly.”

The minister was also pressed on what the government had done to explore counterdrone technology, which could be used to disable drones, with one peer noting they’d raised the very issue two years ago.

“My Lords, technology is rapidly advancing in this area,” responded Sugg. “That is absolutely something that we are looking at. As I said, part of the consultation we did earlier this year was on counterdrone technology and we will be announcing our next steps on that very soon.”

Another peer wondered whether techniques he said had been developed by the U.K. military and spy agency GCHQ — to rapidly identify the frequency a drone is operating on, and either jam it or take control and land it — will be “given more broadly to various airports”?

“All relevant parts of the Government, including the Ministry of Defence, are working on this issue today to try to resolve it as quickly as possible,” the minister replied. “We are working on the new technology that is available to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. It is not acceptable that passengers have faced such disruption ahead of Christmas and we are doing all we can to resolve it as quickly as possible.”


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Author: Natasha Lomas

2019 Explosion of Cannabis Mergers and Acquisitions Predicted

Most of the businesses growing, processing and selling cannabis across the United States are small independently-held entities. That may change in 2019 which looks like a big year for industry mergers, acquisitions and expansion. Large companies, like those in the food, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries have mostly stayed on the sidelines, held back by regulatory concerns, but are now expected to enter the market. The cannabis industry still has a mom and pop feel but that could change rapidly.

Cannabusinesses have been small, primarily because their products can’t be transported across state lines.

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Cannabis Industry’s Hope for California Public Bank Derailed

The cannabis industry’s hope for California to establish a bank for the sector was dashed Thursday with the release of a highly anticipated report that said such a move would place state funds and workers at risk with no guarantee of success.

The conclusions of the 151-page report delivered to a cannabis banking working group led by state Treasurer John Chiang derail attempts to establish a public bank for marijuana companies when state lawmakers reconvene in Sacramento in January.

Supporters hoped a favorable report would provide momentum for the Legislature to clear the way for such a bank to help bring the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry — still mostly a cash-only business almost one year after marijuana was legalized for recreational use in California — into the financial mainstream.

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Legal Marijuana Industry Had Banner Year in 2018

The last year was a 12-month champagne toast for the legal marijuana industry as the global market exploded and cannabis pushed its way further into the financial and cultural mainstream.

Liberal California became the largest legal U.S. marketplace, conservative Utah and Oklahoma embraced medical marijuana, and the U.S. East Coast got its first commercial cannabis shops. Canada ushered in broad legalization, and Mexico’s Supreme Court set the stage for that country to follow.

U.S. drug regulators approved the first marijuana-based pharmaceutical to treat kids with a form of epilepsy, and billions of investment dollars poured into cannabis companies. Even main street brands like Coca-Cola said they are considering joining the party.

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Push to Legalize Recreational Marijuana in New York Raises Questions About Past Arrests

Albany, N.Y./Rochester, N.Y. – Governor Andrew Cuomo says legalizing recreational marijuana will be a priority in the new year.

That is raising questions about what will happen to those who have past marijuana convictions.

Advocates say these convictions have kept people from getting housing, jobs or pursuing higher education.

However, to nullify past convictions, attorneys say separate legislation would have to be introduced.

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Shop these online courses on sale and learn something new in 2019

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New year, new me — or so you say every year.

But is it really a “new you” if you’re stuck in your old ways? Would you consider yourself evolved if you’re not learning something different? Eh, we don’t think so.

Take this fresh chapter as an excuse to pick up a new skill (or two). The Mashable Shop is currently offering deals on online courses that will help you level up. We’re even throwing an additional discount to get you more motivated. Make sure to use the code NEWYEAR2019 at checkout to enjoy an additional 19% off.

eLearnExcel Microsoft Excel Mastery School — $31.59 ($999 value)

It’s high time that you actually learn what to do with spreadsheets instead of just staring at those little rectangles until your eyes turn white. This course will make an Excel master out of you by training you to data crunch, create reports, analyze data values, and more. Read more…

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Author: Dorothy Pitti

No, Netflix isn’t making fake teen accounts to spread ‘Bird Box’ memes

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Even in a year that gave us peak Q Anon, this may be the most 2018 conspiracy theory ever. There are people online who believe Netflix used bot accounts to spread viral memes about its record hit movie Bird Box

The over-the-top apocalyptic thriller, which features a family making the perilous journey down a river in hopes of finding a community safe from invisible monsters that have taken over the world, is ripe with meme potential. The monsters inexplicably make victims commit suicide, which plays perfectly into the younger generation’s grimdark sense of humor.

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Author: Morgan Sung

They’re not all good dogs: TSA prefers to use floppy-eared bomb hounds

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Expect to see more floppy-eared good boys at your local airport in 2019. 

In an effort to put passengers at ease, the Transportation Security Administration says it is deploying more floppy-eared dogs to detect explosives in airports. Their pointy-eared brethren, apparently, tend to make us more nervous.    

“We find the passenger acceptance of floppy-ear dogs is just better,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the Washington Examiner. He added that a pup with downward-facing dog ears is “just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children.” Read more…

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Author: Morgan Sung

Absolutely no one knows the meaning of ‘Bird Box’ so just stop asking

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Warning: Light spoilers for Bird Box lie ahead.

Welcome to Bird Box analysis, where the metaphors are made up and the points don’t matter!

Look. I like a return-to-English-class breakdown of a horror movie as much as the next gal—but this is getting ridiculous. Since Sandra Bullock’s Netflix debut, Bird Box, started streaming last Friday, folks have gone absolutely batshit trying to explain whatever happens to her and her kids in this post-apocalyptic nightmare. 

What do the monsters represent? What do the blindfolds mean? How many grocery store parrots does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Etc., etc.  Read more…

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Author: Alison Foreman