11 May Amazon Alexa Emerges as the Next Super Platform

By Jeff Kirk, Founder and VP, Innovation Outpost

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos noted when it comes to technology and artificial intelligence, “We’re on the edge of the golden era.”  With that in mind, Amazon continues to leverage their “super powers” in the technology assets that the company has created over the past decade.  These powers allow Amazon to delight consumers in new and unexpected ways with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Alexa.  The net effect of all of this: a new intelligent and continuously evolving super platform is emerging.

amazon-echo-show-mbAmazon continues to push into new markets such as communications, fashion, product manufacturing, cloud infrastructure, and media.  As a customer-centric organization with an everything store, Amazon continues to pursue the total customer conversation, and voice is just the beginning.

Over the past few years, Amazon has become the dominant player in the market for voice-activated assistants. According to eMarketer, Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot own 70.6 percent of the U.S. market for voice-controlled speakers, which rely on Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. One of the reasons Amazon has generated so much interest in Echo is that the product has reimagined how we use voice to manage everyday tasks such as ordering products and managing our smart homes. For instance, in 2016, Amazon and Domino’s Pizza generated considerable buzz by making it possible to order a pizza with Echo.

But Amazon was just warming up. On May 9th, Amazon announced a newer, more intriguing version of Echo – Echo Show — that positions Amazon as a competitor to communications platforms such as Skype and FaceTime. As Amazon shared on its website, Echo Show contains potentially game-changing features:

  • The use of a touchscreen that turns Alexa into a visual guide as well as a voice assistant. As Amazon notes, with Echo Show, you can “Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more”
  • The ability to talk with others who have an Echo or Alexa (although technically you can use the new talking feature without Echo Show)
  • A new avenue for app developers, via Alexa Skills connected to existing APIs, to create lovable experiences based on conversation and now supporting video or other visual content

Overnight, Amazon is now suddenly a player in the communications market, especially for video calling, which is led by Apple (FaceTime), Facebook (Messenger), Google (Hangouts), and Microsoft (Skye). The launch of Echo Show alone makes Amazon an instant threat. Why? One reason: Amazon moves quickly. Amazon launched Echo itself less than three years ago – and look how quickly Echo came to dominate, as shown by the eMarketer data. Indeed, as noted by Dan Seifert in The Verge, Amazon has launched “the next level FaceTime.”

As Brian Chen and Nick Wingfield of The New York Times point out, Echo has its limitations as a communications tool. For instance, you cannot make private calls on a speaker. Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, told The New York Times, “We’re so used to using our phones. Finding a reason to use Alexa for that is harder. They need to give you something more specific and interesting and different than other platforms we’re engaged with.”

I think one advantage Amazon provides, though, is ease of use and convenience. For instance, commanding Alexa to call your mom to make Mother’s Day plans to is a lot easier than pulling a mobile phone out of your pocket or jumping on to FaceTime. And with Echo you can easily transition to ordering flowers for Mom while you’re at it. Conceivably the visual component of Echo Show would display your choices of the right bouquet, thus facilitating ordering products and services that require more research and consideration.

In a recent blog post, I noted that Amazon’s power, ingenuity, and nimbleness are three reasons why Amazon has successfully disrupted retail. At the time, I was commenting on Amazon’s launch of Echo Look, a new feature takes photos using your voice. Today’s announcement demonstrates how Amazon is relying on those same attributes – power, ingenuity, and nimbleness – to muscle its way into communications. And Echo is at the center of a bigger ecosystem that Amazon is creating.

Echo Show is available for pre-ordering and will start shipping on June 28