Walt Mossberg interviewed Jeff Bezos at this year’s Recode conference. One topic amongst others that came up several times was Alexa’s future importance at Amazon.
“It’s hard to overstate how big an impact on society” AI, machine learning and natural language understanding will have over the next 20 years, Jeff Bezos told Mossberg. He acknowledged that smartphones won’t go away. Voice interfaces won’t replace screens. “People have eyes”, Bezos said, “and fingers; we like to touch things.” It is not new that multitouch and voice recognition are complementary interfaces. But it is good to know that Amazon, which colossally missed the train on smartphones, has internalized that those pocket computers won’t go away.
Amazon worked on Echo/Alexa behind the scenes for four years. And more than a thousand people are working on Alexa, as Bezos has already told the Washington Post on his press tour for Amazon’s voice recognition endeavours. Bezos is visibly excited about Alexa. Watch the first ten minutes of the recode interview to get an idea about his enthusiasm.
If where were any doubts left wether Alexa may be big deal for Amazon or not, they surely should finally die down these days.
Both Amazon Studios (responsible for Amazon’s own exclusive content for Prime Video) or Alexa could turn into a fourth pillar after Prime, the Marketplace and AWS, Bezos said. But listening to him (start at minute 56), it sure sounds more like he believes that Alexa is going to be the fourth pillar. There may be more to talk about with AI and voice recognition than with video content. But it sounded like Bezos is really excited about Alexa’s potential. And for good reason, I might add.
We have been tracking Alexa since we launched this publication. I went into great detail why Amazon needs a general interest platform in “Post-PC Online Retail: Why and How Amazon is Building the Alexa Voice Platform“:
First: We are undoubtely moving away from the desktop Internet and Browsers and websites as interaction model and towards an app centric context. Even website traffic now is coming mainly from mobile devices. Count in app usage and the completion of this shift is closer than most might think.
Second: This changes things, as they say. The browser was neutral. Mobile platforms are not. Meaning: Features Apple and Google are implementing in their operating systems (OS) have direct effects on the app ecosystems on top of them. (…)
Third: The same platform dynamics are going to play out in other areas: TV, Smart Home, Screenless E-Commerce, Internet of Things in general, etc. We will never return to the desktop Internet and the web. Both will stay as relevant parts of the new digital world. But by no means are they going to be the most important parts for the majority of people. Not by a long shot.
Fourth: Now what do you do as a big online retailer? One possible road is to build your own platforms. Be the master of your destiny. Ideally.
This explains why Alexa is important. But it doesn’t explain why Bezos is emphasizing Alexa more and more these days. One reason for this is probably the arrival of competing products by Apple and Google over the course of this year. There will finally be competition and a lot of media attention surrounding this new product category.
Bezos also made a good point about the market dynamics for this new AI assistants category. It is very likely that people will own more than one AI. Combined with the headstart Amazon has with Alexa, the company is in very safe waters. But the media narrative is different, and that is what Bezos is in parts working against here with his public appearances: Google is better at data, so it may bring a far better product to market. We’ll see about that in the very near future, I guess.
- Why Amazon Echo and Alexa Don’t Need to Fear Google Home and an Apple Siri SDK
- Post-PC Online Retail: Why and How Amazon is Building the Alexa Voice Platform
- 3 Million Echoes: Why Amazon’s Alexa Voice Platform Is Here To Stay
- How Amazon built the Echo
- Amazon Echo Has a Head Start on Siri and Google Now
- The More the Merrier: Amazon Alexa Comes to Original Fire TV and Fire TV Stick