Amazon not Standing Still in Pursuit of Voice-First Homes

on May 9, 2017
Reading Time: 5 minutes

On Tuesday, Amazon launched Echo Show. After weeks of speculation, and a few leaked pictures, we finally have it: Alexa has a screen. You can now see music lyrics with Amazon Music, video clips, cameras, live video calls, Prime photos, recipes from YouTube, and more. You can still navigate all of that with your voice despite the 7″ screen being touch-enabled. Priced at $229.99, Echo Show is available for preorders now and ships on June 28th. I had the opportunity to sit through an extensive demo of the device and was surprised at how much I liked the screen.

Show and Tell

When the first rumors around a possible Echo with a screen started to circulate a few months ago, I was quite vocal in my disapproval. My big concern was adding a screen might take away from the voice-first experience Alexa is supposed to deliver. I saw the screen as a big risk at a time when many consumers are easily falling back into old habits which, for most in the home, means going back to typing on our phones.

It seems as though current Echo owners might not be as worried as I was, however. In a recent study Creative Strategies ran in collaboration with Experian, consumers were asked a long list of questions about their current usage preference and satisfaction as well how they felt about some statements aimed at capturing their perception of Alexa and sentiments on possible new features. 20% of consumers strongly agreed and 32% somewhat agree with the following statement: “I wish my Amazon Echo had a screen (to display text or photos, visualize search results etc…).”

When the Amazon team shared the name Echo Show and then proceeded to walk me through the features, it was not difficult to see why they chose that name. The screen is not about watching, displaying, or viewing. It really is about showing some of the things Alexa would take too long to tell you. It is about complementing your experience and still using voice-first as your main input.

My initial concern went away because Echo Show is not trying to be many different things at once or replacing other viewing devices in your homes. It is really all about adding value to Alexa for tasks where showing you the information rather than telling you make sense. So, if you are asking Alexa what the weather in Seattle is, being able to show you the forecast for the next 5 days vs. having Alexa tell you makes more sense. Or being able to show you the trailer of a movie after you ask what is playing at the cinema. For the user, there is no change in behavior required compared to the original Echo.

Want to Say a Quick Hello to the Family? Just Drop In

One feature that has not gotten much coverage, probably because it is difficult to explain if you have not experienced it, is Drop In. With Echo Show and the Alexa app, you can just say “Alexa, drop in on X” and it will make the Echo Show connect via the camera to the home you are calling. The receiver of the call will have 10 seconds to accept or turn off the video while the person who originated the call sees a frosted glass effect. This is clearly not for all your contacts. If you would not like a person to drop by at your front door unannounced, he or she should not be able to Drop In on you either. The fact Amazon has Drop In off by default and the user needs to enable it tells you they do not think of this as central to the experience but as a nice addition for some people.

Personally, I know I will love to drop in on my family when I travel or even on my dogs and cat when we are not home. I also know I can count on one hand the people that will be able to drop in on us. Amazon has taken great care in giving you time to accept the video call as video and audio or audio only but I still think the user needs to figure out what this feature adds to their experience: an easier and more personal way of calling someone or home/pet/older relative monitoring? It is about the quality of your interaction with a few “special” people rather than the number of people you can share this with.

Although some people might compare Drop in to Google’s Knock Knock, I think the use case is quite different as Drop in is not the main way you will communicate with people through Alexa but it might be the preferred one when it comes to a select number of people. Adding communications to Alexa was not something our panel felt as strongly about as having a screen but there was certainly an interest. When asked how they felt about the statement: “I would be interested in using my Echo like a phone to communicate with others”, only 11% strongly agreed and another 24% somewhat agreed. The less clear stand on adding communication capabilities to Alexa has more to do with how much we rely on our phones for communication. As we are not planning to go without a phone anytime soon, Alexa might seem a little superfluous to some.

Priced to Sell

At $229.99 and two for $349.99, Echo Show is aggressively priced. Some might think this is Amazon just trying to get ahead of Google, Microsoft and possibly Apple’s upcoming announcements in the space. However, I believe this is Amazon continuing on its path to make sure we have as many Echo devices as possible. It is quite clear from our data Echo owners are using different devices in different rooms already. While Echo seems to reign supreme in the kitchen (35%) and the living room (23%), Echo Dot fits first and foremost in the bedroom (24%) and then in the living room and kitchen equally (18%).

The speakers in Echo Show are meant to be even better than the original Echo but positioning this device in your home might require a bit more planning simply because, while your voice might travel, you do want to make sure Echo Show is where you can best take advantage of the screen. Personally, I think the kitchen counter is the best place because there are many use cases that fit the kitchen — following along on how to prepare a dish or morning briefings that now also support video content. The kitchen, at least for now, is probably the room where Echo Show has the least competition when it comes to screens, giving it the best opportunity to show off its capabilities.

Prioritizing Engagement

The race for the control of the connected home experience is far from over but it is clear Amazon not only had a considerable head-start but it is clearly committed to this space. Nothing says it better than building a portfolio of products with different use cases and price points. Long-term engagement with these devices is critical and discovering skills plays right into that. Alexa has now more than 12,000 skills but let’s not get caught up in the same game we played with App Stores. It is really the quality of those skills, not the quantity that will make the difference to my experience as a user. I hope the screen in the new Echo does not become the star of the Show but the best actor in a supporting role for Alexa.