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Predicting the Trends of 2017

What Will Be the Next Alexa?

Making predictions in the consumer technologies business is about as much of a fool’s errand as U.S. election prognosticating these days. Sure there might be obvious candidates like last year’s 4K and HDR-driven video displays and “IoT everything” picks, but few people are able to anticipate out-of-nowhere blockbusters like Amazon’s Alexa and the resulting push for voice control connectivity products in 2016. Nonetheless, at International CES this year I’ll be on the lookout for burgeoning trends for 2017, with the IoT either blossoming or fizzling out, as well as autonomous vehicles, VR, and hopefully more HDR-encoded content. But, where else will we see sales success?

A newly released report by industry analyst Futuresource Consulting reflected on one trend that may seem unexpected, until you consider what triggered it. The analysts noted that the worldwide demand for “home audio devices” is gathering momentum, with the category outperforming the wider CE market and on track to finish 2016 at 102 million units shipped and close to $11 billion in trade value.

“Over the last few years home audio has been the go-to growth category for CE, but 2016 is pushing expectations even further,” said Rasika D’Souza, a senior market analyst. “Against a backdrop of activity from soundbars and Bluetooth speakers, and the success of Amazon’s Echo, it’s been a record year that is also building firm foundations for future growth.”

So there you have it. While most of us in the trade press have been fixated on voice control and its control offshoots, the unexpected beneficiary was “home audio” aspect of the technology. Of course, we’re talking wireless speakers, where Sonos already set the tone for consumer market penetration, but it’s still a promising trend. And, it’s not just a result of voice control popularity, but also the consumer’s apparent desire for access to streaming services.

“Market expansion has been driven by rising consumer interest in music streaming services and music playback on smartphones, with both applying upward pressure on the market for a wide range of wireless audio products,” D’Souza said. “We’ve also seen the beginnings of a market transformation, with voice interaction poised to place the audio industry at the center of the smart home revolution.”

During 2016, the voice personal assistant speaker category expanded with the late-in-the-year addition of Google Home speakers, and the category will grow again as Microsoft teams up with soon-to-be-Samsung-owned Harman to provide a speaker powered by Windows 10’s Cortana–just one of the Cortana hardware solutions that Microsoft will likely unveil in 2017.

Despite all the commotion created by the arrival of voice, Futuresource says that Bluetooth speakers still account for 80 percent of the wireless speaker market. In addition, soundbars continue on a growth curve, with Futuresource forecasts showing a rise of 15 percent in 2016, on track to finish the year at 16 million units shipped.

Here’s to another prosperous year in consumer tech and more pleasant sales surprises.