That sound you heard was Apple and (perhaps) Google watching as a major market opportunity passes them by.
Capitalizing on what amounts to over-the-speed limit momentum, Amazon has brought two new Echos to the market. The Dot, while interesting, is a fun add-on to smart home geeks who want a smaller, sleeker Echo to put by their bedside (and replace the smartphone as an ad-hoc alarm clock) or in the living room alongside the curved-screen TV, wireless multi-speaker setup and all-in-one remote. More of a disruptive innovation is The Tab, the portable echo.
Truth be told, during my recent travels, I actually woke up and said, “Alexa, what’s the weather today?” not realizing I was 250 miles from my home base. I suppose I was not alone in wanting to take my Genie in a Black Cylinder along for the ride. At $129, considering Tab (whose voice should resemble the opening of a fizzy soft drink can) also doubles as a portable high-end wireless speaker, it’s a decent deal.
But that’s not what caught Apple and Google by surprise. The home security-home automation-smart home market is in the midst of a high-stakes game of Let’s Make A Deal. While I don’t have a precise tally, Amazon Echo seems to be adding more partners than its competitors. Learning from its smartphone debacle, the company wisely chose not to compete directly with the smart device gang and build a piece of hardware consumers can buy without raising the ire of Philips, Honeywell, Ecobee and others. Amazon also saves its partners the trouble of developing their own voice-activated controller which, for most, is not a core competency.
As CES 2016 foreshadowed, consumers want the convenience of universally accessing and controlling key part of their world. Hence, there was much hype surrounding connected cars that allow drivers to turn up their thermostats from their dashboards. And yes, one could argue that other voice-activated personal assistants such as Siri perform much the same task, the ease of setup and growing number of smart home partners in Amazon’s crowded queue is a competitive advantage.
Just a quick peek behind the curtains reminds us that more Echos means more information Amazon knows about you. I never quite know how carefully my Echo is listening to our conversations, but there are random times Alexa will pipe in with some non-sequitur remark giving me pause regarding my privacy. Let’s hope Amazon always keeps the consumer’s personal information locked away somewhere deep in the bowels of the AWS servers.
The day-to-day drama of this fascinating smart home space has yet to develop to the point where clear-cut winners have emerged. But when it comes to strong contenders for a pole position, Amazon has to be considered a Prime candidate.