There’s a new virtual personal assistant on the way…
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There’s a new virtual personal assistant on the way…

Remember M? No? Well, it was Facebook’s attempt at creating its own artificial intelligence (AI)-powered Alexa alternative. The assistant, which was designed to function in Messenger, came out in 2015, and was meant to assist users with smart suggestions. Last year, it was canned, as it relied on human input that never came, effectively leaving it dead in the (digital) water. Now, the world’s largest social media company is having a second stab at creating an assistant to compete with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.

Facebook’s share price has risen by 38% so far this year

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Source: Yahoo Finance

CNBC was first to break the news, citing two Facebook employees who recently left the company as a source. Unsurprisingly, those former employees remain nameless – but the project they reported on doesn’t. Within the company, this piece of software is (somewhat unoriginally) being referred to as ‘Facebook Assistant’.

The people working on Facebook Assistant (not, we assume, its name when it comes to market) are the same team that has previously worked on hardware like Facebook’s Oculus headsets: the augmented and virtual reality group. Allegedly, the team is being headed up by Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant, and has been contacting vendors in the smart speaker supply chain.

If Facebook wants to break into the AI assistant market, it has its work cut out for it. In the west, that market is dominated by three Big Tech titans: Amazon, Apple, and Alphabet. Amazon – the overall leader – has 70% market share in the smart speaker world. On mobile, Apple has around 45% of the market. Alphabet holds second place in both of those areas, with roughly 30% market share in speakers and mobile. Where will Facebook’s new offering sit?

Despite how tied up the current market is, Facebook might have a few aces up its sleeve (and bear in mind, we’ve only discussed the west – if you add in the east, Facebook will also be competing with China’s tech powerhouses: Baidu, Alibaba, and more). For one thing, the company’s social media apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook, and more) might offer built-in integration (this is the tack Facebook tried last time, with Messenger – could they get it right a second time round?). Another route might be to start shipping Facebook Assistant with hardware – the Oculus headset, the new Portal video chat smart speakers, and anything else Facebook might have up its sleeve.

When you have the capabilities and funding Facebook has, nothing is impossible. But, if the company wants to cause a splash in the virtual personal assistant market, it will have to get it right this time around. With the smart assistant market continuing to grow at incredible pace towards our connected future, expect the company to throw everything at it.

Disclosure

Dominion holds Facebook, as well as Alphabet, Amazon, Baidu, Alibaba, and other companies with an interest in the virtual personal assistant market, in its Global Trends Ecommerce Fund.


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