Alexa: The Next Android

By Doug Mohney February 28, 2017

Amazon's Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is only at the beginning of its potential.  People better wake up to the fact that it has a hot combination of third-party developer support, open architecture, and winning consumer device. 

The announcements and upgrades for AVS are numerous. Amazon announced AVS has over 10,000 new “skills” to order products and services and control devices, and they were all mostly created by third-party developers through the use of the Alexa Skills Kit APIs.  Support for Alexa has been embedded into Qualcomm's latest Bluetooth chips, enabling users to tap into AVS through third-party headphones, speakers, and fitness trackers. I saw hints of “Echo Clones” at CES in January, built by someone other than Amazon but able to tap into AVS just like the original hardware, and Intel is working with Amazon to develop a reference design to enable more developer options.

Already Alexa is an ecosystem of over 11 million (and growing!) Echo devices sold, plus numerous third-parties adding in AVS support into their gadgets and frobs.  Apple, Google, and Microsoft better figure out a way to compete, and fast.

Two of my early wish list features are apparently in the works for Alexa and its Google Home counterpart.  The Wall Street Journal said Amazon could offer multiple options to tie the device and service to phone calling, including assigning a phone number to the Echo and syncing with an owner's current mobile phone number and contact list. AT&T already has an add-on skill (and hey, anyone notice how AT&T loves developers?) to send text message through Alexa voice command.

My number one “must have” feature from my January discussion was voice biometrics to identify individual speakers and enable customized profiles, plus another authentication factor when purchasing things from Amazon.   Time reports Alexa voice recognition is in the works with what it calls Voice ID, but no timetable on implementation. (There are different user profiles available on Alexa already, but it's not intuitive on how to switch back and forth).

Voice ID is going to be a back-end software/cloud lift, no additional hardware necessary.  Since Alexa is already recording voices in an always-listening mode, it wouldn't surprise me if Amazon is already counting the number of unique people in the household using the device. If it isn't, it's not a heavy lift to do some audio analysis. 

The second and “Why don't you have it already?” feature is searching and adding skills BY VOICE, along with other customizations.  Today, you are required to use the Alexa app to add skills. In some circumstances it might make sense to add skills via app, but the point of having a voice assistant is to be heads up and hands free – not looking down at the phone or typing on a keyboard.   I understand this will require more programming and building a skill or “super skill” to add other skills via voice, but it's a feature that has to be in the works already.

Adding popular streaming services – well, one in particular – is third on my list.  Sirius XM radio is already available via app and available through Amazon Fire TV and the associated TV Stick, so this should be a skill and/or software upgrade.  I'd love to have full voice control on Sirius XM without having to use a lot of “duct tape” to make it happen.  Integrating it into Alexa would be easy and open up more sales opportunities for Sirius.

Voice ID, phone call integration, and hooking Alexa into the business world – do you think Chime is going to be in a silo? – are all part of a broader phenomena.  Amazon has created an ecosystem that has the potential to be the next – or bigger – Android in technology impact.   Apple, Google, and Microsoft have to be concerned about the traction Alexa is gaining.  Google has its own product out and Microsoft has a device on the way, but Apple doesn't have anything yet.  Google's main obstacle to growth is in failing to “close the deal” in a big way beyond its established strength in phones.

Regardless, this is still early days. Samsung has next-generation voice assistant technology in its portfolio, so you can bet it is working on getting devices built and out to the market once it has enough infrastructure built out to support a large number of devices. But every month of deal is another month of Alexa advances. 




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Editor

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