The Massive Amazon Echo/Alexa Event, A Deeper Look.


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It’s Day 1 For Echo And Alexa

“If you think that’s a big failure (the Fire phone), we’re working on much bigger failures right now. And I am not kidding. And some of them are going to make the Fire Phone look like a tiny little blip,” —Jeff Bezos, 2015

Today (September 27th, 2017) Amazon released a “haul” of Echo/Alexa products. Nearly three years after the release of the original Echo.  In 2014 the original Echo was treated to yawns and “What the heck is it? A speaker you talk to?” comments by even some of the most astute in technology.  Echo rapidly gained wide acceptance outside of the centers of technology and by 2016 some tech observers were declaring Echo an “Overnight success”.

Amazon surprised just about everyone in technology when the secret “Project Doppler” or “Project D” from Lab126 offices in Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Mass. was announced on November 6, 2014.  This was an outgrowth of a Kindle e-book reader project that began in 2010 and the acquisition of voice platforms it acquired from Yap, Evi, and IVONA.

A whole lot of work went into what we see as Echo today.  The ambitions rose fast as the “Project Doppler” teams saw that the timing was right for a convergence of voice recognition, intent extraction, voice synthesis, far-field microphone arrays, AI systems and cloud computing. Just one year ago I wrote about Jeff Bezos 1,000 person Alexa army and people were stunned [1].  Today it is a 5,000+ person Alexa army.

This was a next generation Amazon Alexa-themed event with Echo devices for every possible use case. Here is a quick summary and overview of this massive Echo/Alexa “Haul”:

Echo Spot— is a circular-screened device that is an Echo Show fitted into an circular 2.5-inch display “alarm clock”.  It includes the second generation far-field microphone array with higher accuracy at a distance. There is a connection to external speakers via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio cable to bolster the 2W built-in speaker. The Spot is available to pre-order now, and will ship to the US in December for $129 [2].

New Echo— is shorter than the original features a variety of shells to match the room you place it in and costs less than the Echo did at launch, $99 and available today [3]. This is the sequel to the Echo and retains the name of the original Echo related in 2014.  This is a high fidelity Echo with a 2.5-inch woofer, a dedicated tweeter with Dolby Digital audio.  The new Echo uses the new far-field microphone array.  Amazon revealed six sleves that fit around the new Echo including fabric and wood veneer to suit any room in your home.

Echo Plus— is an easy-to-setup smart home hub in the same form factor as the original Echo in three new colors, selling at $149 and available today [4]. Out of the box smart bulbs will automatically go into discovery mode while you install them.  Alexa will automatically name the devices with a simple naming convention: the first one you set up will be called “first light” that can later be changed to something more meaningful.  There are no apps or skills needed to install on the device, it just works  with 100 devices available at launch for the Echo Plus including lights controllers, switches, light bulbs, cameras, drapery controllers and locks. The Echo Plus ships with a Philips Hue smart bulb so customers can see test the idea of a smart home system before they buy any other gear.

Echo Connect— is s phone device that plugs into the standard RJ11c home landline phone connection and lets US customers make phone calls through their Echo speakers on sale now for $39 [5].  The call is tied to the owner’s phone number, so receivers will still see the same number and caller ID of who is calling them. This makes this new Echo Connect a sort of extension to a  landline speaker phone.  There are 50.5% of US households now that only have only wireless phones, yet the others still use land lines often.  This of course is primarily a focus of an older are cohort. Yet this is a very powerful feature that moves Amazon a much wider use case.  The device will also allow you to call 911 for emergencies.

Fire TV featuring 4K Ultra HD—HDR and Alexa Voice Remote— is 40% percent more powerful than the Fire TV Stick. It is the next generation of Amazon Fire TV and works seamlessly with 4K Ultra HD or HDR compatible TVs with a true-to-life picture quality and sound with vivid colors, 60 fps, HDR, and Dolby Atmos audio, on sale now for $69.99 [6].  This is the Alexa TV interface with a powerful near-field microphone array.

Echo Buttons— is a new way to interact with Echo/Alexa. This is a bluetooth connected, multi hued, LED lit button that can control the functionality of Alexa [7]. This looks a lot alike a Staples “Easy” button, but it is something much more.  The buttons can be assigned uses by each Skill based on the Alexa Gadget software tools that Skills can access.  The physical modality of a remote button leads itself to new use cases.  The first use case will be gaming as displayed in the Amazon example images, however I can see dozens of new use cases that will plant these $20 for 2 devices product in many areas.

 

The Echo Family

In one day Amazon massively expanded the Echo/Alexa universe.  To some observers it may seem that Amazon is obsessed with splintering the Voice First landscape with niche products.  In some ways this is very true, they want to be their own competition. Yet in a far more deeper way, Amazon is establishing a line around a new space, the home.  After today Amazon has made clear they will continue the extension into the home by reaching into just about all the rooms that compose the modern home.

The array of Echo devices and the speed at how they are entering the market is almost impossible to keep up with. There are 100s that span from appliances to automobiles. Amazon’s own device line up has grown by 4 devices in one year. This is a massive move for what some though of just a niche market.  This chart shows the options in a single place:

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Today, with the Echo Plus Amazon has also solved the frustrating setup of smart home devices with a 1-click, no-smartphone-needed step. This means a smart lightbulb is instantly recognized the moment it is turned on. This establishes the Echo Plus as the new high watermark standard for home automation. Just this alone would be a big deal today, but there is much more.

Alexa Taking Over Every Room Of The House And…

Most of the Echo devices are in the Kitchen, Great Room or living room.  In many homes this is really part or directly connected together.  This forms the nucleus of the typical home.  The path in was unobtrusive and almost unnoticed, viewed as a novelty by most [8].  Yet this route, planed or unplanned is very much a part of the reason that Amazon has taken the Voice First sector and defined it.  This was a space for other companies to lose in, namely Apple and Google and they were utter caught by surprise.  Even today it may not seem apparent just how important this is and will become.
I have written much about the Voice First revolution [9], I coined the phrase (much to the annoyance it creates with my over use). I see the rise of Voice mediated AI as an inevitability.  User interfaces shift forward about every 10 years [10].  I see it as the next interface:

This shift means that on the arc of 10 years we will become more acclimated to Voice First and those that have defined it may very well have the advantage and Amazon is not going to let this advantage slip.

There is also another quite unnoticed aspect at play.  Humans form concentric ad-hoc social networks.  The very first concentric ring in this network is those we love.  This is precisely the social network that Amazon is building around.  I see the Echo Show and the new Echo Spot as the fabric that weaves into this social network in a way that is quite powerful.  The “appliance” nature of the new Echo Spot goes way beyond the Alarm Clock use case.  I see it as ultimately a $50 item that will connect those we love, wives, husbands, children, grand children, girlfriends, boyfriends or just about anyone we love on a close level.  The zero-barrier ability to set up a quick video call is the delivered promise from the early 20th century Science Fiction novels to World’s Fair demonstrations by Bell Laboratories.  Of course all of the pieces of this social network have been in place with Skype and Face Time, yet not quite like this.  I see a future version of Echo Spot on the desk of just about anyone.  On the kitchen table. Indeed next to the bed.  Connecting us, when it is ok with us to each other.  This is very firm glue and Amazon currently owns this space also.

The Echo Spot is today’s standout because it captures the right balance of visual use and Voice First use in an unobtrusive and stunningly beautiful design. The circular front screen is great design and will ultimately lend itself for the Echo Watch.  There is no doubt in my mind that Echo Watch will be a high point of 2018 along with Echo Glasses, perhaps paired together as a single system.

We can already see how the Echo Spot is telegraphing the future and this is fundamentally important.  The Echo Spot defines a new device category that is not quite Echo and not quite Echo Show.  The only hold up is the price point should be lower objectively for the mass market I see ahead.  The sweet spot price for the Echo Spot should be $59 and I think we may see that as soon as 2018.

The Echo Spot along with the Echo Watch and Echo Glasses will move Amazon from the home and into other spaces.  There is no doubt that the automobile is on the road map with the BMW partnership announced today.  However I am certain we will see the Echo Spot showing up in businesses first as employees take it in sitting next to the pictures of loved ones.  And later as a modality for customers to communicate with businesses.  This will be a rather large turning point.  I see a big business to consumer use case on the horizon.  Amazon’s AWS pedigree will assure this new way of connecting people works.  It will extend the close social network to a new default communication channel.

Amazon operates on the Day 1 at Amazon always [11].  Jeff Bezos stated:

“The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind” — Jeff Bezos

What Jeff means is this, they are always trying to embrace the Day Sprit and ethos. The Voice First revolution is the tailwind that was formed from millions of years of evolution creating our primary communication channel, our voice to the convergence of just the right hardware and AI software along with cloud computing to make the powerful trend surface.  Amazon did not invent the concept of the Voice First device, but they sure are defining it into the now and future.  History will wonder why it was not so obvious by those that were had much to lose.  Perhaps the drive created by the Day 1 sprit gave Amazon the advantage and now with the tailwind, they are relentless in determination. Click relentless.com to see how deeply Amazon feels about it.

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[1] Jeff Bezos 1,000 person Alexa army

[2] Echo Spot

[3] New Echo

[4] Echo Plus

[5] Echo Connect

[6] Fire TV 4k

[7] Echo Buttons

[8] Is-Amazon-Echo-and-or-Siri-and-other-voice-assistants-actually-useful-or-is-it-just-a-novelty

[9] There-is-a-revolution-ahead-and-it-has-a-voice

[10] Is-it-true-that-user-interfaces-change-every-10-years

[11] Heres-what-jeff-bezos-day-1-philosophy-is-all-about

 

 

 

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