Virtual Assistants Are the Hot Sellers This Holiday Season

Based on early reports, virtual assistants from Amazon and Google are set to be the big winners in this season’s holiday sweepstakes.

While some analysts thought VR headsets from Facebook or VR-enabled cell phones from HTC or Google could take the top spot, consumers have been enthralled by the promise of virtual assistants.

Amazon Echo
Stock Photo: ORLANDO, FL – April 30, 2015: Amazon Echo, the voice recognition streaming device from Amazon, announced last year is currently shipping. (George W. Bailey /

The trend is a big win for the consumer adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) related technologies as it opens the door for a slew of connected appliances, virtual assistants and other home management devices in the near future.  Andrew Uerkwitz, an analyst for Oppenheimer, told Reuters that his group had upped its estimate of Amazon and Google home assistants to nearly 12 million during the holiday season.

While the sale numbers sound low, these devices were not readily available last year and some industry observers believe this will lead a rush of other devices manufacturers bring their own personal assistants to the market.

Cortana Virtual Assistants
Stock Photo: Melbourne, Australia – Jun 13, 2016: Using Cortana on Surface Pro 4. It is an intelligent personal assistant created by Microsoft for Windows 10. (ymgerman /

Earlier this month Microsoft announced that it was opening up the code for its Cortana personal assistant to appliance manufacturers.  Just last week IBM announced that it was working with BMW to install its Watson Artificial Intelligence (AI) in i Series electric vehicles.  Such moves would help to fuel the predicted explosion in IoT-enabled devices, which Gartner has predicted will easily eclipse 20 billion worldwide by 2020.

However, the growth has also brought up issues regarding security and privacy. One example of potential security concerns was the DDoS attack which happened on October 21st. Hackers relied on security weaknesses in IoT-enabled devices to bring down the servers of internet infrastructure company Dyn. By doing so, they were able to disable the websites of such companies as Twitter, Spotify, PayPal, Verizon, and Comcast among others.

Virtual Reality
Stock Photo: Los Angeles, CA – USA – August 29, 2015: Guy tries virtual glasses headset during VRLA Expo, virtual reality exposition, event at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles. (betto rodrigues /

Even with the concerns, consumers have been flocking to the home assistants.  So much so that Piper Jaffray has cut its 2016 estimate Virtual Reality (VR) headsets by more than 60 percent.  The revised estimate has raised some eyebrows as the investment bank had previously pronounced that VR would be the ‘next mega tech’ trend.

While it would appear the consumer market for VR has flatlined, industrial applications have gained steam.  One example of this is Ford’s use of VR in its design process.  Another example is a study which is using VR to help veterans to lessen the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Apple Watch
Stock Photo: SEATTLE, USA – May 9, 2015: Man Using App on Apple Watch While Outside. Multiple Apps View. (Anna Hoychuk /

Wearables have also continued to lag.  While several high-profile companies have entered the space — Apple, Garmin, Fitbit — consumer reception has been tepid.  The market is already going through a bit of a shake-up as the owners of the Pebble smartwatch has recently announced they would be ceasing operations and selling their intellectual property to Fitbit.

According to Forrester’s Julie Ask, single-use devices have been losing ground to multipurpose devices, such as Apple’s iWatch – which is on pace to sell more than 5.5. million units during the holiday period. However, this is a far cry from the 20 million devices original expected when smartwatches burst onto the scene in 2014.

Despite the lackluster growth for wearables opportunities remain, especially as device manufacturers use the watches as a platform to integrate with other devices such as personal assistants.