Alexa’s German Version Still in Kindergarten

Amazon Echo

On the 26th of October, Amazon Echo was supposed to launch in Germany with an invitation based system. It took Amazon until the 7th of November to send out emails to customers who where requesting invites to buy an Echo or Echo Dot to tell them that everyon will get one but that it may take “several months”. (Amazon later kind of back pedaled and told customers it may take “several weeks”.)

Now, almost a month after the (supposedly?) official launch, there is still no German user review for the Amazon Echo or for the Amazon Echo Dot. This implies heavily that hardly any German who is not a journalist or an analyst like us has gotten a German Echo already. Early adopters eagerly waiting to get their hands on those devices would also rush to write the first reviews. That none have appeared on Amazon’s site so far is troubling. (The Alexa iOS app got one German user review. There are more on the Android side of things. Another data point: The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are not heavily advertised on Amazon’s frontpage anymore. In fact, they can only be found by directly searching for them.)

So, in summary: To say that the German ‘versions’ of Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are supply constrained would be an understatement.

We got review units of an Echo and Echo Dot for testing how good the German version of Alexa is.

Remember, the new German Echo will show us Alexa’s global future as this is the first non-English iteration of Alexa:

How smooth this expansion into German, and other languages, will go, will tell us precisely what the outlook for Echo and Alexa is:

> wether Amazon can pull off a successful internationalization of Alexa, next to Google’s and Apple’s already more widely internationally available voice interfaces, will be the last important point of data to assess to get a read on how strong a position Amazon will be in in a voice interface world.

So, let’s have a look at Alexa speaking German:

Compared with the English ecosystem, there are very few skill integrations (third-party integrations, ‘apps’) available for Alexa in German. This is not surprising and, frankly, doesn’t matter much at this point in time. The genius of Echo and Alexa is how they provide a perfectly fine product right out of the box without a huge ecosystem around them. This, a working Echo, is Alexa’s way to the market. The ecosystem should come with the large installed base. (And that is what has happened in the US.)

Flash Briefings, formats created specifically for Alexa (which would also work with, say, Google Home), are already being used by some German publishers. Namely, Tagesschau, Bild, Spiegel Online and n-tv are providing some content for Echo/Alexa. (Obviously, Amazon is the driving force behind those launch partners. One wonders, how they feel about the delay of the actual launch.)

There are some, but not many, local integrations like Chefkoch (a rundimentary integration, bordering on nonsensical, of a hugely populare recipe cooking community), Deutsche Bahn and mytaxi.

Early on in using Echo, it became very apparent that we belong to a group of very early users of the German Alexa. The voice recognition is not as good as it is in English. This is understandably as Alexa has yet to get more data for the German language to get better. (The flipside of the beauty of machine learning is that the starting point by definition leaves a lot of room to grow.)

Two aspects are noteworthy:

  1. Alexa is learning in a fast manner. Commands it did not process or processed only after we repeated them a few times got picked up faster and accurately after a few days of usage.
  2. It may be because of the array of microphones in the Echo, but speaking from personal experience (all of this is anecdotal of course) it at least feels to me like Alexa is already better or at least on par with Apple’s Siri. Which is a feat in and of itself, given the fact that Siri has been available in German for 5 years.

So, in summary:

The launch of the first non-English Amazon Echo has been bumpy. The launch has been delayed and Amazon is as opaque about this as the company always is. Any momentum that reviews and articles in German publications may have built up will have vanished once the Echo and Echo Dot are available for purchase. (As there has yet to come real competition to the market, Amazon still has some time. Google Home is said to arrive in Spring of 2017 in Germany (German) and other markets outside the US.)

Now, lets see if the German Alexa can grow up as fast as its English parent.

The Echo Dot, Echo’s inexpensive little sibling, is important for this. Maybe more so than the bigger, more expensive Echo.

Cnet wrote in its review of the Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation) that Alexa finally has some competition. That (Google Home) is almost certainly why we have a second-gen Amazon Echo Dot. With the price slashed to a near-absurd $50 (or £50 in the UK, where Alexa launched this summer) and €60 in Germany, Amazon’s goal is obvious — get its virtual voice assistant into as many homes as possible now, before people have other options. That means that the Dot is designed to sell, sell, sell. And to step all over the arrival of Google Home.

And that the Echo Dot may well do:

“The smart home of tomorrow just found its Model T”, writes CNET about the new Echo Dot. It is promising then that Alexa launched (or is going to launch..) in Germany with the Echo AND Echo Dot being available. The low entry price for the Echo Dot will make sure that more curious people will give Alexa a try. And it will make sure that Alexa enthusiasts can easily provide every room in their house with access to Alexa.

Read in detail here why Alexa matters.

More on this topic:

9 comments

  1. Practical question though, can Alexa understand both German and English at the same time ?
    Can I ask question in each language without reconfiguring it all the time ?

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    1. German Alexa understands it when I ask it in English for the current time. It fails at everything else I ask of in English. Could be because of my bad pronunciation. I don’t know.

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    2. Hum, so is it configured to understand both in your opinion ?
      Like you if ask for the time in English does it responds in english too ?

      I’d like to have one device shared between multiple people speaking different languages.

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      1. No, I now guess that this is not possible with today’s Alexa. And for good reason, I guess: trying to identify messages between two languages is harder than with one language. Alexa has a hard enough time with German right now as it is.

        Asking for the time seems to be one of few hard-coded exceptions. Nothing else I tried has worked. Having thought about it, it doesn’t surprise me.

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  2. Ok, thanks for the clarification.
    I guess I’ll wait for a version that speak the languages we have in Europe 🙂

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