The Alexa Phone
First off, this is pure speculation based off being a market observer and avid technology adopter.
We now have 3 Alexa devices in our house (Echo, Echo Dot, Echo 2) and our house is pretty far from “smart”, having been built in the 1890’s. In fact, some of our wiring is still knob and tube and nearly every door and window leaks heat or cool air – whichever is more valuable at the time of its disappearance.
So, Alexa’s ability to manage my home’s lighting, heat, and cooling is next to nil.
It does, however, connect to a few Sonos speakers I have around the house, and, in the case of the Echo 2, sounds perfectly great by itself. I’m not an audiophile, but I am a conveniencephile and I really enjoy having artificial intelligence that connects my Amazon Music account to my speakers. It feels technomagical.
Alexa’s also there to help us sort out our differences.
Previously in human history, men and women had to actually know things, or at least speak authoritatively enough to convince others that the words spilling from our mouths were, in fact, facts. The advent of the smartphone destroyed this in less than a few years. An iPhone makes verifying and (more than often) disproving audacity as simple as a few taps. It’s infuriating, but perhaps getting our facts straight before pushing them past our lips is a good thing.
Having Alexa around just removes the tap. Now she’s there to disprove me at a moment’s notice – verbally. Nothing coming out of pocket, and the only inconvenience left is the sequence and choice of words used in a question or command. This is improving rapidly.
Speaking of improvements, Alexa can now learn your particular voice, wake you up to music you like, connect to your Sonos, lighting, environmental controls, answer questions, read Audible books aloud, tell jokes and stories, and a LOT of other things I’m not even clued in about. I didn’t think I’d want Alexa until I had it.
All of this ability emanates from an impressive and massive cloud platform.
Alexa resides within what a lot of smart people are saying (1, 2) is one of the top cloud infrastructures on the planet. While working for a technology company in 2013, a very well-informed IT leader (of a major bank) gave a talk to our group and and suggested that Amazon’s cloud infrastructure is, and I quote, “…way ahead of the competition.”
Alexa gets better frequently, and the technology that accesses the AI doesn’t require replacement every other year (unlike the iPhone). It’s all operating on this amazing cloud infrastructure. The guts of the device which controls sound quality among other features will improve on every iteration, but it’s not integral to the offering: Alexa.
This resilience as a buy-once product allows the Echo to be adopted by more homes with greater confidence. It’s not going out of style like your iPhone 7. That same resilience is going to provide Amazon with the kind of market penetration needed to launch a new device that’s far more personal to us, giving them greater access into our souls.
More than 20 million Alexa-powered devices made it into homes in 2017, with lots of Christmas deals to help steam that along.
Why hasn’t Siri or Google been as successful? I turned Siri off because it offered me next to no convenience. Even after years on the market it doesn’t do anything I care about well enough to use it. Google feels too intrusive. They know too much about me as it is, and changing their internal motto from “Don’t be evil” to “Do the right thing” seems to allow a little more subjectivity in what they do with all of our input.
That bothers me. Maybe it bothers me more than you because I have deeply libertarian sentiments about the role of government in business. Google was/is a major part of the NSA’s PRISM program (despite denying broad collection participation), but Amazon is not mentioned. In a transparency report, Amazon claims to not have participated.
I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. I like it, and I’m comfortable with them trying to sell me stuff. I can always say no. This feels less intrusive and more helpful to me.
Apple’s defense of user privacy makes me trust them more than Google, but Siri’s just not there yet in utility (and they don’t play nicely with Amazon).
So, here’s my claim: Amazon will release a new smartphone as soon as the Echo’s home market penetration hits whatever internal threshold they are waiting for. Maybe that’s 50 million homes or one Echo device in every home of every Prime customer.
Regardless, I think it’s coming.
I am fully aware of the Amazon Fire Phone’s failure. From what I’ve read, it was a fine device that tried to push the limits on some stuff that people didn’t want (3D camera) without the hook of necessity that most other major smartphone manufacturers have: Android’s deep Google integration (free apps and services) combined with flexibility of customization, or iPhone’s app store and iTunes music service dominance.
There was nothing about the Fire Phone that gave it any particular advantage. The Kindle app was already available on every other device – other than buying books directly of the app, there was no killer feature to justify the product’s market viability or lifespan.
That all stands to change with an Alexa Phone (Echo Phone?).
There are a few features in Echo/Alexa devices that indicate that this product may happen. It might even change communication as we know it (I know, bold claim, but hear me out).
Alexa Calling and Messaging
There are free voice calls and messaging between Alexa devices – even video chat if you have one of the new Echo Show devices.
I think they’re probably looking very hard at if this messaging service will get used and whether it can evolve to handheld counterparts.
As to the changing of “communication as we know it” part, I feel that we’re ready to kill the phone number. This is all going to come down to account names on the cloud at some point. It’s just a matter of companies cooperating enough to settle on a standard, but that standard will give consumers amazing control and options as to how they communicate. The death of the phone number is near.
Amazon might be the company to lead the charge.
If you have deep enough market penetration, and your technology is available cross-platform (as an app on other devices), it can become ubiquitous and expected. Adding services will increase adoption, but that doesn’t mean it will be a win.
This is all very speculative, but I’m a believer in the utility and dominance of Alexa as stand alone product, and if it ends up being the harbinger of massive AI competition… bring on the robot overlords.