Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Alexa May Have Won CES, But It Still Has a Fight Ahead" (AMZN; GOOG)

From MIT's Technology Review, Jan. 6:
Amazon’s smart assistant is everywhere, but Google is playing catch-up with a system that could prove superior.

Amazon doesn’t have an official presence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it’s making no shortage of headlines thanks to its Alexa smart assistant. Don’t assume, though, that the AI butler will be king forever.

If you’ve been following the news coming out of CES this year, you’ll have noticed that voice-controlled AI assistants are everywhere. Conversational interfaces, which we predicted would be a breakthrough technology in 2016, have already made a big impression on consumers, and now companies want to bake them into as many pieces of hardware as possible.

Leading the pack by a wide margin is Alexa. It’s made its way into third-party speakers similar to Amazon's own Echo device. It’s been loaded into robots. It’s escaped the house and made its way into automobiles. It’s even inside a smart fridge.

As Android Central has argued, CES serves to demonstrate that Alexa is at this point far more than Amazon’s Echo speaker. Indeed, it appears to be turning into a fully fledged operating system—just one that’s different from those that have gone before it, because you interact with it via your voice rather than a screen.

And Amazon finds itself in a particularly strong position because it’s opened the software up for other companies to bake into their own products. In fact, it is clearly actively encouraging third parties to roll the assistant into their own products and build new apps, known as Skills, to run on Alexa.

The system’s nature means that it’s easy to build into any old device: it simply needs a modest chipset, mic, speaker, and Internet connection. That’s because all the complex business of dealing with questions is performed on the cloud.

It's also already popular. Millions of people have tried, used, and lived with Alexa. In fact, such is the demand for it that Amazon sold out of its Echo speaker ahead of the holidays.

Openness, ease of integration, and popularity have all contributed to the assistant turning up in so many products this week in Las Vegas. Unsurprisingly, then, some commentators have declared that Alexa won CES. They’re probably right.

But that doesn’t mean that it will remain on top....MORE
Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System (AMZN; MSFT; GOOG; FB)
"CES 2017: The Year of Voice Recognition"