What is it?
The Amazon Echo is an affordable personal assistant in the form of a speaker that turns your house into a smart home. The device itself is a well-designed round speaker that looks great in any room and features the ability to play music (Amazon Prime Music, Pandora and Spotify), connect to smart home devices, track shopping lists, order a Starbucks, or even hail an Uber.
We found it’s friendlier to operate than Google Home, though some settings are a little hidden. As expected with all new technology, there are a few kinks to be worked out – for example, the weather Skill provides timely local forecasts, but it doesn’t account for the wind chill. Overall, the Amazon Echo gets a big thumbs up because it requires very little set up and most commands work right out-of-the-box.
With Amazon’s Echo Dot starting at just $30, it appeared under a lot of Christmas trees this year—so many, it seems, that Amazon’s Alexa app reached the top of the App Store charts the January 13th weekend for the first time. Unsurprisingly, it’s also at the top of the most popular apps list in the Google Play Store, which serves Android devices. For those who are skeptical of the Voice Platform revolution, Google’s Home app also ranked in the top 10 downloads for the holiday season.
Why is it awesome?
The Amazon Echo with Alexa has real implications and applications for use in your home – namely its ability to make it smarter. More than just a smart listener, it can be customized to suit your home and lifestyle by loading a myriad of Skills. Skills for Alexa are akin to apps for smartphones. A simple voice command allows your Alexa to install a new Skill, and settings for that Skill can be adjusted by voice command or in the Alexa app from a smartphone. What Skills are available? With 30,000+ Skills available in the Alexa App Store, owners are spoiled for choice.
One big reason why Amazon Echo is awesome is that it connects a whole host of smart home devices. With simple voice commands you can: customize music selections for speakers in different rooms, dim and change the hue of LED lights, control smart door locks, operate home cameras, adjust smart thermostats, turn on/off sprinklers, start your car, select TV programs, initiate a Roomba vacuum, raise/lower blinds, speed up or slow down fans, and even set a coffeemaker brewing, essentially controlling anything that is plugged into a wall socket. In other words, it facilitates the Internet of Things (IoT) for your home.
Once the excitement of being able to turn lights on and off with your voice fades a little, you quickly realize that the bigger impact is that Alexa actually changes your behaviour. You will probably listen to more music, you may start to dim your lights to certain levels, and you may see your whole family start contributing to shopping lists and calendars.
How will it change the world?
Amazon is launching an enormous product push that will see Alexa in a lot more places. This year, Alexa will be built into Windows laptops made by Acer, Asus, Lenovo and HP. The family of Echo devices will expand to include screens with the Echo Spot and Echo Show. In addition, hundreds more IoT devices for smart homes will be made available – for purchase on Amazon.
Now that our computers and devices are smart enough to understand our natural speech and can respond to our voice the number of Skills is bound to increase exponentially. Amazon intends its voice platform to be a whole ecosystem similar to Apple’s App Store, but only time will tell if it will have the same impact. Undoubtedly, the ease of verbal shopping is meant to substantially boost Amazon’s transactions.
In particular, Alexa is a game changer when it comes to making your house smarter. It’s really the first voice-activated operating system for your home. Alexa’s initial incarnation is practical, but it’s laying the foundation to be the go-to smart personal assistant of the future. For example, you can already check on a flight, but it won’t be long before Alexa will provide updates on a flight’s status or remind you to pack days in advance. Instead of just informing you that today is someone’s birthday, Alexa may scout for gifts in advance based on your friend’s preferences, letting you know if which one are on sale. And, speaking of smarter: because Alexa is powered by Amazon’s artificial intelligence platform, it is bound to become more intuitive and nuanced over time.
In another exciting development at CES 2018, Alexa will start appearing in our vehicles. Toyota and Lexus cars have announced Alexa integration with their infotainment systems. Likewise, Ford have announced that their Amazon partnership will include the ability to buy products, transfer destinations to the navigation system and control smart home features while on the road. Modern BMWs are also featuring some Alexa-controlled functions.
Amazon has also rolled out Alexa-as-software via its Android Alexa app, equipping its voice command technology platform to Android phones without Echo. Putting Alexa on smartphones, including iOS devices later this year, could vastly expand the number of Alexa users almost overnight.
Finally, the Alexa phenomena is a great opportunity for marketers to ‘speak directly’ to customers. Adding a branded, custom Skill is the perfect blend between a personal concierge for your company and a customer service representative. Think of how it can set up reminders or shopping lists – and let marketers take part. Alexa may be the perfect tool to put micro moments in a customer’s user journey, or to present preferred customer discounts. Don’t just take our word for it – Canadian financial companies like BMO, TD, Aviva, and Manulife have all jumped on the Alexa bandwagon, so companies would be wise to start experimenting with Alexa.