How Google Home Became the Best-Selling Smart Speaker

Amazon lost its top spot for the first time. Here’s why.

A podium with Google Home at top, besting Amazon Echo and the Apple HomePod.
Photo illustration by Slate.

Amazon has led in smart speaker sales and adoption since it pioneered the category with the Echo in 2014. But for the first time, someone else has topped the smart speaker sales charts. According to data from technology and smartphone analysts with Canalys, Google beat out Amazon in first-quarter smart speaker shipments this year. Google shipped 3.2 million Google Home and Home mini products in the first quarter of this year, while Amazon shipped only 2.8 million.

The shift isn’t entirely unexpected. Google has been inching closer to Amazon’s sales numbers, largely aided by a gangbuster holiday season in which it grabbed 40 percent of U.S. smart speaker sales. Growth from other competitors, such as Apple, has also eaten into Amazon’s dominance.

In this past quarter, a total of 9 million smart speakers shipped, compared with only 2.9 million devices in the first quarter of last year. While Amazon had nearly 80 percent of the market during that period of 2017, its market share this year dropped to 27.7 percent. Google, meanwhile, jumped from 19 to 36 percent. Asian smart speaker leaders Xiaomi and Alibaba claimed a combined 18.8 percent, while “Others” (such as Apple) nabbed the remaining 17.2 percent of the market.

The real difference, according to Canalys, is Google’s international sales. While Amazon still leads in the U.S., it is having more trouble gaining traction abroad than Google. “Google has several advantages over Amazon that have helped it move ahead,” Canalys analyst Ben Stanton says. “But its biggest advantage is in the channel. Operators and retailers tend to prioritize Google’s speakers over those from Amazon, as Amazon is in the tricky position of being a direct competitor.” Canalyst analyst Vincent Thielke explained that in some markets, like Singapore, consumers who sign up for StarHub broadband get a free Google Home mini with their purchase. Deals like this have helped Google spread its market reach.

Google’s dominance overseas may continue for this reason, as well as because of Google’s multilingual abilities. Google Assistant is available in English (six dialects—U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, India, and Singapore), French, German, Italian, and Japanese. Amazon’s Alexa, meanwhile, only supports three languages: English (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and India), German, and Japanese.

Amazon still dominates the smart speaker space in terms of smart home integrations and third-party skills. But for global dominance, the company’s overpowering success in the retail space—something that helped it get an early lead—now may be holding it back abroad. Other retailers and technology providers would rather partner with Google, which they don’t see as a threat. For both smart speaker–makers, there is still plenty of room for growth. With the enormous Chinese market at their disposal, we can’t discount Alibaba or Xiaomi from possibly leapfrogging these two U.S.-based leaders at some point in the future, either. After all, the smart speaker market is still growing rapidly.