Is Alexa working?
Amazon's Alexa was a huge accomplishment, innovative and unexpected. Amazon developed a scratch class, leaving both Google's AI leader and Apple's phone leader struggling in their wake. 100 m units are now available (including third-party phones with Alexa embedded)-not all of these will be equal to active users, but even if 50 m are in use, this is still a significant proportion of Amazon accounts. After the Fire tablet's very limited success and the Fire Phone's disappointment, Amazon has a great success.
Its success is fairly conditional so far, though-we still have to wonder what Amazon is actually gaining from it. What do customers do to support Amazon with these devices? What is the key strategic benefit? Amazon has put an endpoint in tens of millions of homes-what is it doing with it?
With Google, Apple and Facebook's similar phones, answering this question would be much easier:
- Google and Facebook are simply about reach. Satellite apps that make their products easier to access give them more ways to make your usage secure, and more ways to learn about you and provide more relevant data.
- Some people are worried about whether Google or Facebook can place advertising on devices that do not have a conventional ad inventory or even a surface area that might support it (especially audio-only devices), but I strongly doubt that the core revenue-generating behaviors (sharing, browsing feeds, searches and buying funnels) will soon move to audio-only modes on a scale – this is an accessory.
- And Apple obviously sells devices to make money, so try to make a real margin from them and use them to link you closer to their ecosystem – if you buy a HomePod or Apple TV, you're more likely to replace your current iPhone with a new iPhone than an Android.
If you buy the thing and use it for the most basic use cases that it comes out of the box for these three companies, then the strategic goal will be met.
On the other hand, Amazon is selling stuff. His television shows help sell things by driving Prime, which pulls you into Amazon to buy children's shoes or soap. Which Alexa is doing for this is not yet clear. Nonetheless, Alexa's bear case is that Amazon has succeeded in selling a huge number of glorified clock radios-today, survey data suggest that people mostly use these for audio (music and podcasts), weather and kitchen timers, plus some trivial questions and smart light command. If that's all people ever do, Alexa is at best just a form of marketing as far as Amazon is concerned.
That is, Alexa could be said to have achieved some level of consumer-fit product-market, but not Amazon.
Therefore, we recently had two Amazon statistics about Alexa: that 100 m units were sold, and that Amazon had 10,000 people working on them. This is vastly more people than one would normally expect to get the device made and the software working, especially given that the Echos themselves are produced by contract manufacturers. Rather, this is about experimentation and iteration: “what can we do with this and how can we expand the use case?”
There are a few clear threads to be considered. Alexa's ability to control' smart home' devices may extend to allow for more delivery models(' open the garage door automatically when an Amazon delivery robot arrives' or more prosaically just' unlock the Fedex delivery door' and give me a video of it happening), or more automated shopping (the washing machine may be able to order more soap for itself). Another thing to think about is how companies can help customers with products using Alexa. For example, there may be an Alexa ability that tells you how to use a product when you need ongoing guidance and are unable to use your hands. I don't know what the answer is, and that's the point-Amazon is in the mode of experimentation. Indeed, as seen in the Fire Phone and Tablet and indeed in the new crop of retail store pilots, this is an experimentation company.
I feel the same creativity also applies to the development mode of Skills, which is another conditional achievement. Yes, thousands of' skills' are developed, but how many of them are used, let alone drive buying, is not clear. There's a basic Ui puzzle to solve: an audio-only interface's paradox is that it feels like a much more dynamic and free-form interface than a graphical interface, but it doesn't really have a way to tell you what it can do. If it has 5,000 ' skills,' one by one, you can't ask it to recite them. Solving this problem of discoverability is one reason why both Amazon and Google are developing phones with small screens (through which the devices already out there are not helping).
But, taking a step back, I believe Alexa's competitive interest-option cost-is broader.
One of the fundamental changes that came with mobile was that the interface of users became much less impartial. There were quite narrow limits on the desktop to what a web browser could do to control website economic models and interaction models. On a mobile, handling everything from software permissions to default settings to alerts and communication templates (not to mention purchasing in-app) ensures that Apple and Android have much more direct control over what marketers can do to meet consumers using these phones. Interestingly, one of the main reasons Google first purchased and developed Android was fear of what Microsoft and Nokia could do with that energy. Now this is what Amazon is facing. With web platform businesses, the end point has become much more tactical. Yeah, whatever you can do to get your own destination has significance for the future, even if no-one is using it today to buy soap dust.