Morgan Stanley says Amazon had sold more than 11 million Echo devices even before the holiday season hit its peak, and likely sold millions more during the shopping frenzy.

Share story

Amazon.com sold more than 11 million Echo devices even before the latest holiday season hit its peak, investment bank Morgan Stanley says in a report, an estimate that hints at the sizable territory the e-commerce giant has already staked out in the brewing contest for artificial-intelligence dominance.

The Echo line of devices acts as a vessel for Alexa, the voice-activated software persona that Amazon has developed to allow users to control lights, buy detergent or pick out a song from Spotify just by using their voice. Alexa competes with similar voice-controlled platforms from Google, Microsoft and Apple that many experts say are the future of personal computing.

In a note published Wednesday, Morgan Stanley analysts say that, based on a recent survey, Amazon sold 11 million devices between mid-2015 and Dec. 1, 2016.

The great majority were purchased in the U.S.; the analysts estimate that some 400,000 were sold in Germany and 300,000 in the U.K. in that period.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

But, as Morgan Stanley acknowledges, that estimate is “likely too low,” given that it doesn’t account for the bulk of the shopping frenzy that starts with Black Friday and peaks in mid-December.

Amazon said right after Christmas that it had sold Echo devices by the “millions,” at a rate nine times greater than the previous year. That comment led Morgan Stanley to guess that Amazon may have shipped 9 million devices in the holiday season alone — based on their previous assumption that in the 2015 holiday season about 1 million of the gadgets flew off the shelves of Amazon’s warehouses.

The readings from Morgan Stanley’s crystal ball are important for two reasons. First, they would mean almost 9 percent of U.S. households had an Echo before the holiday season, an already sizable number that could have significantly increased after gifts were unwrapped.

That’s a lot of headway, at a time when Google, with its Home speaker, just entered the race for voice-activated devices. It bodes well for the future of Alexa as an artificial-intelligence interface as it squares off with rivals.

Second, the numbers mean Echo probably has brought in quite a bit of revenue — perhaps $900 million just for the fourth quarter, or 2 percent of Amazon’s sales.

Morgan Stanley’s figures are higher than other recent estimates. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, a Chicago-based consumer research firm, thinks that as of the end of the year there were between 7 million and 10 million Echo devices in the U.S.

Amazon says there are “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices out there,” but that number includes gadgets made by Amazon that also harbor Alexa, such as the Fire tablet and those made by third-parties that have embraced the platform. At the recent CES conference in Las Vegas, companies from Whirlpool to LG to Lenovo announced a multitude of Alexa-enabled appliances and devices.

The Echo comes in three flavors: a $180 cylindrical speaker, a $130 portable Bluetooth speaker called the Tap, and a $50 hockey puck-like Dot, which connects to speakers or headphones. Morgan Stanley estimates that 60 percent of the Echo devices sold during the holiday season were Dots.