Several years ago, France’s Invoxia introduced what seemed like a novel product: a little smart speaker called Triby that was one of the first third-party devices to have Amazon’s Alexa baked in.
But the world of tech gadgets moves fast. And while having a voice-activated device in the home was unusual in 2015, now Invoxia faces a market in which tech giants on all sides are pushing voice-activated smart speakers, from Apple’s HomePod with Siri to Google Home powered by Google Assistant. And, of course, Amazon’s own line of Alexa-driven Echo gadgets continues to expand. Somewhere in the middle is Sonos, which has recently announced a new speaker that will work with Alexa, and eventually with Google Assistant.
So how can a small, independent player like Invoxia stay in the game?
The company offered its response to that question today with the release of a new version of the Triby. The general shape of the device is the same as that of its predecessor: a box with curved corners, a handle at the top, and a magnet on the back designed to attach to the refrigerator. As with the previous version, users can send short messages, use it to make calls to pre-set numbers, and stream music from services like Spotify. It retains its casual playfulness. And the price is still $199.
But Invoxia CEO Serge Renouard is hoping two things will help set the Triby apart: its portability and its ability to serve as a voice-activated hub for Apple’s HomeKit. The speaker has a rechargeable battery that frees it from being constantly plugged in. And having both Apple and Alexa features potentially makes it more appealing to folks who don’t want to be locked into just one ecosystem.
“The Triby becomes one of the first portable HomeKit switches,” he said. “You don’t need to have your iPhone with you anymore.”
The speaker has five buttons on the front that can be associated with different features. Users can assign the “scenes” they create on their HomeKit app to one of the Triby buttons. So, for instance, one button could activate a scene that turns on certain lights, changes the temperature, and activates other appliances.
For those who are a bit more technically minded, the Triby will also work with the IFTTT home automation protocol.
Of course, Renouard knows that home automation is primarily of interest for the earliest of adopters and is limited to those with the resources to install connected gadgets and appliances around the home. Still, the shift to a focus on home automation is a next step in carving out a distinct role for the Triby.
“It has become difficult,” Renouard said. “[Competitors] all have enhanced products. And there are a lot of new brands, like Sonos, that will support Alexa or Google. It’s a real challenge for us. And that’s why we don’t try to just rely on the voice recognition stuff. We probably address a very limited population. But we address the tech people who were already interested in connected devices. That’s a population that’s very familiar with these technologies, and they’re open to new products.”
Renouard expects that, generally speaking, users will to continue to face a choice between the three ecosystems of voice-driven products: Apple, Google, and Amazon. “I don’t see any convergence happening,” he said.
This next year is going to be big for the surging market of voice-activated smart speakers. Apple’s HomePod is coming in December, while Sonos’ new lineup is just hitting the market. And don’t expect Amazon to stand still as it seeks to maintain its leadership position.
For now, Invoxia remains lean. Founded seven years ago to develop voice technology for conference calls, the company evolved in the direction of consumer products that can leverage its far-field voice recognition technology. The company is stable but is not yet profitable as it continues to invest in product development.
Invoxia has 35 employees and is hiring to boost its marketing. It expects to start raising another round of venture capital next year. But those efforts may depend largely on whether the Triby can demonstrate that there’s a market for a small, independent player in a field of giants.
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