The pitched battle for the home smart speaker market is hard to miss with Amazon and Google fighting it out for market share and mindshare. However, there is another battle going on around ear share that is just getting started. Specifically, the battle is for the in-ear real estate and experience. Bose SoundSport Free wireless earbuds are the latest entry into this category.
The $249 SoundSport Free are pricier than the $159 Apple AirPods and Google Pixel Buds. They are also being marketed differently. While AirPods and Pixel Buds promote everyday use cases and voice interaction, the Bose SoundSport Free focus on active use during workouts.
Bose SoundSport Free is About Listening for Bose
For Bose, this category is about listening. The company made its reputation on audio delivery, both delivering and suppressing noise. Company product strategy is simple: provide speakers for your home and ears that deliver audio. The difference is that Apple AirPods and Google Pixel Buds have introduced new in-ear use cases for voice. The in-ear experience is now about seamless digital interaction along with passive listening. Whereas AirPods and Pixel Buds may not have the Bose expertise or branding around sound, Siri and Google Assistant have a lot of mindshare and marketshare in voice.
The Bose SoundSport Free strategy is to simply integrate access to each of these voice assistants. You long-touch on the earbud to activate either Siri or Google Assistant on your paired smartphone. The microphone on the earbuds will pick up the speech. There does not appear to be a way to activate Siri or Google handsfree although they may pick up a command similar to other use cases with Bluetooth pairing. This is not the first Bose product to integrate voice assistant access. Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II launched in September with Google Assistant support.
No Room for Alexa
The other notable point is that Bose SoundSport Free have no Alexa support. This is not too surprising given that Amazon doesn’t have a mobile platform to support the device. However, Alexa’s absence highlights the fact that strength in the smart speaker market for voice doesn’t necessarily translate to voice interactions beyond the home. The mobile voice assistant use cases are still owned by the dominant global smartphone platforms. It is easier for hardware manufactures like Bose to just integrate with what is available. The pairing of earbuds with smartphones means Apple and Google are the first in line for voice assistant market share no matter who owns the in-ear real estate.