You have to hand it to Amazon, for a company whose net worth is over $450B, they sure as hell do not act like a big slow bureaucratic corporate; but have a speed that leaves most startups with their heads spinning. Amazon this week done it again, outflanked the industry, and announced a brand new device to its hardware lineup; Echo Show – Alexa now has a face.
The device had only been leaked literally 48hrs before Amazon officially started taking orders – a level of secrecy the likes of Samsung or Apple can only dream of. Why is this? Because Amazon is a company we all underestimate. Many write them off too quickly as simply an online retailer. They are not scared to fail. They fail fast, which is a fancy way of saying, they don’t dwell on their mistakes, and simply dust off the experience and move on.
Echo is the hardware ecosystem around the Alexa AI intelligent voice-activated service. It gives a body to Alexa.
Yet the Echo range is part of a much longer game that most people have not yet realized.
First came the voice activated 2001 esq cylindrical monolith that would sit in your room listening for commands to serve you. Things like the weather status, daily news briefings and then of course controlling your music collection. You could of course have Alexa add things to your Amazon shopping cart – after all, Amazon is your consummate retailer and it needs to see those tills ring.
Though Alexa Echo had it’s shortcomings, something I detailed back in January of this year, it still found a place in my life, namely the bathroom where it provides me with my acoustic diet each morning in the shower.
But Amazon have bigger plans for Alexa than just being my shower buddy – this week they introduced a touchscreen with it, to make things a little bit easier. Many assume that the screen is there to help with some of the issues that voice-activated devices pose. Oh you are so wrong. Amazon is already ahead of you.
Amazon is well on it’s way to integrating into all of our daily lives. Alexa is already starting to pop up on cars and other devices, all linked back to your Amazon account. She can follow you around, like the Ship’s Computer in Star Trek, ever present to help you out.
But why the screen? Well, as part of the experience is the video calling. Amazon wants to make it as simple as possible to make hands-free video calling a real thing, and this goes a long way to make that happen. A couple of days after announcing this new device, they announced that anyone with the Echo device or even just the app, can enjoy voice calling for free to another Echo user.
Now this is where it is getting interesting. Amazon is now going to be making it real easy for us to connect to each other, not just Amazon. Instead of fumbling for our phone in our pocket, looking up contacts, we can easily say “Call mom”, up to my arms in either the kitchen, bathing a child, and get a helpful voice (or video call) all without detracting from what we are doing.
For the record; many a time, I have been knee deep in a project, hands busy with other stuff, loving to be able to call in help for some assistance, on the task at hand.
Think about that for a minute … what seems a simple movie-like feature is actually a very powerful game changer.
It isn’t a huge leap to think Amazon will connect this voice network to the public PSTN network and be able to dial up anyone in the world. Amazon AWS recently started offering build-your-own call center technology as part of its cloud offering. So you know they have the ingredients to easily and quickly add to the Alexa universe.
The Sony Dash – epilogue
For those of you that feel there is something a little familiar with the Amazon Echo Show, then allow me to help you there. Sony, in 2010, tried building an Internet helper device to sit somewhere in your house many years ago; the Sony Dash. I had one of these devices, and as soon as the novelty wore off (which took all of 2 weeks) it was relegated to the cupboard and never used again.
Sony creates and sells good devices, and outside of the Playstation, sucks at creating communities. The Dash suffered from a drought of updates, widgets and general features. It was also horribly slow and often locked up.
Sony is officially killing off all support and updates this July 2017.
Amazon, I believe will succeed where Sony failed, because it is more about just the physical device, but the overall story and vision. You are not buying a voice activated device when you jump into the Alexa/Echo world, but a fast paced evolving world of experimentation as we figure out just exactly what it is we want from such a device in our normal daily mundane lives.