The next big thing may not look like much at first glance. But if you overlook Jeff Bezos’ cylinder of obsession, the Amazon Echo, you may be missing this decade’s smartphone.
Over the past few months, VoiceLabs (now Alpine.AI) has interviewed close to a hundred Amazon Echo consumers and developers. The sheer variety of apps, or Alexa skills (as they are called), means the Echo and Voice Applications as a whole will be very big. We’ve seen skills that let your Echo be your weatherman, read breaking news and even tell you pick up lines. Not to mention the number of Alexa skills has grown 40% month over month.
The first thing to get comfortable with is we are on a roller coaster ride. Voice Applications are VERY EARLY, and it is evolving VERY QUICKLY. After all, there will be four thoroughbreds in this race (Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft), all coming to market with Voice First devices in the next twelve months… and Facebook will likely join the party.
The Amazon Alexa family of products, the Echo, Tap and Dot, is the first to market. As most phenomena go, the Amazon Echo was an overnight success … four years in the making.
Jeff Bezos revealed how committed Amazon is to leading the voice future at the Code Conference in May:
“… the team on Alexa, Amazon’s smart voice-assistant software, and Echo, its flagship device, is now more than 1,000 employees. ‘We’ve been working behind the scenes for the last four years,’ Jeff Bezos said about Echo and Alexa. ‘It’s just the tip of the iceberg.’”
Bezos doesn’t just see Alexa as a novel project, but the potential fourth pillar of Amazon, joining Prime, the Marketplace and AWS.
Right now, the Echo is mainly for music. It is a $200 speaker system that is great for streaming Amazon Music and Spotify. It is like the Wizard of OZ learned how to be a DJ. Your music wish is the Echo’s command.
That capability alone would make the Echo a success, but a minor success. However, the Echo is Amazon’s trojan horse into the home.
Amazon has aggressively shown they want the Echo to be for commerce too. (After all, it’s Amazon.) The bet they are making is that Amazon customers with an Echo will buy more products through Amazon.
Early on, that bet is paying off.
On July 12, 2016, Amazon held it’s second Prime Day. On Prime Day, every piece of hardware that was Alexa voice-enabled was heavily discounted, and more importantly, Amazon used it as a day to teach consumers to buy via voice.
Alexa-exclusive deals, discounts that could only be redeemed via voice, were purchased once per second.
Apple’s Siri paved the way for Voice commands, but Amazon is the first to execute Voice Commerce. Voice Commerce is the act of buying items by speaking to a computer. This is a totally new paradigm for consumers, and Amazon is succeeding in teaching this new behavior.
We are standing at the forefront of the voice revolution. The Echo family of products are the first packaged hardware and software experiences to hit the market, with many more coming from Apple, Google, Microsoft and others.
Right now, it is a cottage industry with a few vocal supporters. It feels like the early stage of the ‘Homebrew Computer Club,’ and VoiceLabs gives a lot of credit to the even earlier adopters. For example, Brian Roemmele, has been forming a thesis around Voice First that is now 800 pages long.
We are excited to join this community and provide value to brands and developers building Voice experiences for consumers.
As we think about the Voice future, here are a few key questions that are top of mind:
- What are the unique characteristics of the hardware and the software that make this new future delightful? (future post coming)
- What are the latent consumer demands that will be fulfilled by voice? (future post coming)
- How do we enable an ecosystem of innovation? (future products coming)
Stay tuned for many more posts and products!
Alex and Adam