The work on Echo started about four years ago, he tells the audience, and there are working “probably more than a thousand people” on it.
Previous to Echo and Alexa the primary way that people had interacted with their home automation systems was with an app on their phone. But it’s very inconvenient:
To control your lights, you have to take your phone out, find your phone, open a particular app, find the right screen to control the lights on that app …
The phone is not the right solution for every problem. It’s a good solution for many problems, but not for every problem.
This incapsulates very well what we have been talking about here regarding Echo and Alexa over the last few months. It has become obvious that voice recognition is going to be an ubiquitous interface next to multitouch/mouse&trackpad in the very near future.1
The Echo is going to get a lot of competition this year. At last week’s Google I/O, the company’s yearly developer conference, the search giant announced two new products : Google Home, Google’s answer to Echo, and Google assistant, Google’s answer to Alexa. Apple is also allegedly working on a Siri API and SDK (Apple’s answer to Alexa) and a standalone speaker device (take a wild guess).
Once those products hit the market Amazon Echo is going to turn from being a loner into a pioneer of a new product category. For the first time, Echo and Alexa will have direct competition.
A few thoughts:
- Google almost certainly will offer the best voice recognition of all the three big companies.
- Google is lacking any meaningful distribution channel and experience in hardware products. (Google had flops like Nexus Q or Google Glass and the company lets partners manufacture its very marginal Nexus smartphone line.)
- Amazon has a big advantage when it comes to distribution.
- Apple is also strong on distribution (and consumer loyalty) but the company is severely lacking in building up strong platforms. (The way the appstore was set up was a stroke of genius. But nothing ever since coming from Apple gives us much confidence on the platform front. This is very unfortunate but a topic for another time.)
- The same is true for Google. Where Apple wants to control all endpoints, Google wants to collect and analyze all the data. Additonally, where Apple is reluctant to even launch and bolster all aspects of a new platform, Google is happily throwing several platform wannabe’s onto the wall. (One example: Last year’s I/O had the introduction of Brillo and Weave, two IoT initiatives without follow-up this year around.) Which leads directly to developer fatigue when it comes to actually adopting those platforms by Google. (Why invest time and money if one doesn’t know wether Google may abandon the platform underneath in the near future for something else like the company has done so many times before?)
Amazon Alexa has the Alexa fund, investing in startups integrating Alexa like Triby did. That is just one part of Amazon’s very clever work on establishing the Alexa platform. I wrote about how Amazon is establishing Alexa in great detail in this article.
Amazon Echo has a headstart that should not be underestimated. There are real first-mover advantages when it comes to platforms and Amazon has being playing the game very, very well. Three million Echo devices have been sold in the U.S., according to estimates. To get a glimpse of how far the integration side of Alexa is, one just needed to look to CES this year: At CES 2016 Amazon Alexa was everywhere. Amazon’s Alexa API set is well established, as far as one can say that in such a young market.
So, Amazon Alexa doesn’t need to fear Google Home/assistant and whatever Apple may releaser later on. The headstart is tremendous.
There is, however, one caveat. Echo and Alexa are still, one and a half year after they hit market, English only. Google will be able to bring Google Home and Google assistant early on to other languages. And given Siri’s currently supported languages, Apple will most certainly also be able to offer next gen Siri in more than just English speaking countries as well soon after it will be available in English.
So, the signal to look for is when exactly the first non-English version of Echo and Alexa is going to be announced. The earlier this gets released the more bullish the case for Amazon Alexa becomes, and vice versa.
Maybe Bezos tipped his hand in that Washington Post interview regarding this aspect. At one point he says that „Teams in Berlin and Seattle“ are working on Echo/Alexa.
More on how Amazon is establishing itself as a market leader in voice recognition:
- Triby’s Integration is a Sign of Things to Come for Amazon Alexa
- 3 Million Echoes: Why Amazon’s Alexa Voice Platform Is Here To Stay
- How Amazon built the Echo
- Post-PC Online Retail: Why and How Amazon is Building the Alexa Voice Platform
- Amazon Echo Has a Head Start on Siri and Google Now
- Amazon’s Alexa and Dash Replenishment Service – A Level of Convenience Unseen Before
- At CES 2016 Amazon Alexa Was Everywhere
- Multitouch can completely replace mouse and trackpad and eventually it may will do so in a few decades. But voice and multitouch are complementary to each other. ↩