From Hotels to Gadgets, Omnipresent Amazon Alexa Will Be the Dominant Voice Platform

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Not just a great PR stunt, but also a sign of things to come: The Wynn Las Vegas resort & casino hotel is going to equip all hotel rooms with Amazon Echo devices.
From the PR release:

Wynn Las Vegas and Amazon announce plans to equip all 4,748 hotel rooms at Wynn Las Vegas with Echo, Amazon’s hands-free voice-controlled speaker. The introduction of this technology into every guest room, beginning this month with installation in suites, will be an industry first in the world, allowing guests of Wynn Las Vegas to control various hotel room features with a series of voice commands via Alexa, the brain behind Echo. 

This makes a lot of sense: Hotels can provide easily accessable services and make using the rooms in general easier. For Amazon this opens up yet another alley to provide services as a middleman to new B2B market. (Imagine local third-party services getting integrated into the hotel’s offering via voice.)

Amazon Echo sales have reached 5 million in the two years they have been available, research firm CIRP says (via Geekwire):

Amazon’s Echo device has reached a sales milestone, with a new report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimating that the retail giant has sold 5.1 million of the smart speakers in the U.S. since it debuted two years ago.

The Echo first went on sale in late 2014 only to Prime members, but became generally available in June 2015. CIRP estimates that approximately 2 million units were sold in the first nine months of 2016. […]

CIRP also reported that awareness of the Echo continues to increase, climbing to 69 percent of U.S.-based Amazon.com customers in September, up from 20 percent in March 2015.

The firm, which polled 3,500 Amazon customers, said that the Echo Dot and Echo Tap, two smaller and cheaper versions of the traditional Echo device, accounted for at least 33 percent of sales in the past six months.

Amazon Echo

The Vice president of Alexa Machine Learning, Rohit Prasad, talked with Backchannel about the present and future of Alexa at the time of the Amazon Web Services conference in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.

In this interview he also talked about the Alexa Prize competition:

This is the $2.5 million challenge to computer science students that you announced in September?

Yes. In academia it’s hard to do research in conversation areas because they don’t have a system like Alexa to work with. So we are making it easy to build new conversational capabilities with a modified version of the Alexa skills kit. This grand challenge is to create a social bot that can carry on a meaningful, coherent, and engaging conversation for 20 minutes. […]

In most skills, people will want to say things like, “Alexa, stop.” Or “cancel.” You want those commands, or intents, to be exposed to the developer, rather than trying to tell developers to build customized versions of things like the cancel/stop intent. Slot types are things like city names, vocabulary items. We had previously done a handful of them, things developers use quite often — around 10 intents and 15 slot types. So as part of third-party skills we’re announcing a larger set of hundreds built-in functions — slot types — across different domains, like books, video, or local businesses. And also a large set of intents as well, which help answer queries that people ask Alexa.

Under the headline “Voice Is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It” Backchannel recently also wrote about the reasons why Alexa has a comfortable headstart:

After years of false starts, voice interface will finally creep into the mainstream as more people purchase voice-enabled speakers and other gadgets, and as the tech that powers voice starts to improve. By the following year, Gartner predicts that 30 percent of our interactions with technology will happen through conversations with smart machines. […]

Amazon introduced the Echo as a smart speaker that responded to a few simple commands. “People’s expectations were very moderate,” says McQuivey. The Echo was really good at doing what it promised. And its owners didn’t have to press a button; they could awaken Alexa by repeating a wake word (“Echo” and “Amazon” can work in addition to “Alexa”). Thanks to far-field microphones, which can pick up a normal speaking voice from just about anywhere in a room, Alexa could pick up and respond to voice commands reliably.

Second, Alexa’s users are hooked on it. About a third of them turn to the tech three times or more every single day. […]

Third, Amazon opened its platform early to third-party developers to program “skills” — the equivalent of “apps” — just months after it launched. They’ve made Alexa much more enticing to its users. A year and a half later, Alexa has more than 5,000 skills.

​Alexa is slowly but surely growing out of Echo. A first (third-party) smartwatch with Alexa integration is already available. More gadgets will follow. Amazon itself is surely thinking about more form factors. (Like a rumored Echo with a screen; which would basically be a stationary tablet.)

In cooperation with Techstars, Amazon also has launched the Alexa accelerator, yet another (smart) program to foster the Alexa ecosystem:

Offered in partnership with Amazon’s Alexa Fund, this program is designed to support early-stage companies advancing the state-of-the-art in voice-powered technologies, interfaces and applications, with a focus on Alexa domains such as connected home, wearables and hearables, enterprise, communication devices, connected car and health and wellness.

The Alexa accelerator, in combination with the Alexa Fund, the Alexa Prize (see above) and the ‘Alexa Champions’ developer program are showing off a true platform company hard at work.

Amazon keeps pushing forward. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

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