The recent layoffs by Amazon targeting its device unit have sprung up many articles on Amazon’s inability to monetize Alexa – especially knowing that Amazon’s strategy has long focused on selling devices at cost and making revenue from its greater ecosystem. While sold at a cost, Kindle is a gateway product to Amazon’s extensive library of ebooks.
Alexa as a product felt like the future was released into everyday consumers’ hands. This is not something that happens often, but the echo was a genuine awe-inspiring product.
But looking at Alexa after ten years of constant development and iteration, it’s hard not to think of it as less of an awakening to a new way of interacting with computers but a few trick ponies. I long ago gravitated to Apple’s Siri for my house voice AI needs, not because I disliked Alexa, but because Apple has me very tightly in the grip of their entire ecosystem. Even with that, I rarely use a voice AI to do more than a few mundane tasks: Check the weather, play music, and control other smart home devices. I wish I could do more, but the promise of devices like Star Trek’s computer still feels very distant. Heck, using the word “and” is still impossible for the lion’s share of smart speakers or home AI.
Many imagined that voice would become a new interaction stream regarding monetization. Instead, we have learned more about different devices’ values and the interactions’ pros and cons. Speaking has a ton of limitations. It requires a generally quiet location, privacy is limited to people who can hear, and listening takes more concentration than we realize. How often have you asked about the day’s weather only to not remember and ask as soon as your smart speaker is done?
I love my smart speaker, and I still find Alexa a fantastic device, but I wonder what we all collectively want in Alexa 2.0.