At Amazon’s Developer Event in Las Vegas, the company came out swinging, looking to be the sole platform for machine learning and artificial intelligence of the future. Their announcements are important in a couple of key contexts.
Thinking about the Echo and Alexa platform, we are at the stage in the game where the early entrant may be the winner or a majority winner. We are in a race for the voice-first platform and the players are Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. While I’m not going to discount the potential of all four, I believe I can create the strongest arguments that Apple and Amazon are the best positioned to be the dominant players in markets where they compete. Apple, for reasons I outlined here, where they can likely be the default, and Amazon because of the reasons I will lay out. First, I need to make a grounding point.
With voice, we are talking about the opportunity to develop a relationship we are comfortable with. Having used all the main voice first UIs, I still think Amazon is the best because you can address it by name. I know this sounds like something small but it is a big point in how we interact. Saying, “Hey, Siri”, “Hey, Cortana” or “OK Google” are natural ways to speak but saying, “Alexa” is a more organic way to kick off a “conversation”. Yes, the other three can fix this but, right now, we are at a stage where the consumer experience with a voice-first UI matters. The key for all of these companies is to get regular consumers using their voice-first UI and to use it for more than just saying, “play a song” or “set the alarm.” Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon need people to train their AI agents. That will only come as they use them often and for more advanced things necessary for making these agents smarter.
The reason the Echo is interesting to me is it forces you to a voice-first paradigm. This is on point with what Carolina outlined yesterday, where adding a screen could hinder the Echo because it allows the user to go back to an old habit or UI metaphor by using touch instead of voice. This is a similar counterpoint I offer to Apple’s positioning that the best place for Siri is in your computers. The problem with this viewpoint is it allows us to use our old behaviors of touching or typing vs. being “forced” to speak to Siri. Consumers will almost always stick with default behaviors when given the option. The beauty of the Echo is we are not allowed old behaviors but forced to create new ones. It just so happens to be the ones that are helping Amazon take the lead.
It is with this grounding I think about how certain companies are positioned for the future. If Amazon continues on this path, they are likely to have more consumers using their AI interface in ways that are truly helping them build an AI platform than other competitors in the market. This is also a part of their grand strategy in announcing that anyone can now build on top of their AWS platform — including natural language processing, machine and visual processing, and even their artificial agents using a set of tools Amazon now offers.
I think about who else is laying the groundwork for third parties to develop such comprehensive solutions in AI and machine learning and come up empty. Not to discount what Google has done but their strength is in search, not AI. Microsoft has some compelling assets around Cortana but they have yet to prove the masses will embrace these new tools. Apple is focused on a more introverted approach to AI. Amazon is looking to democratize it faster and with a holistic toolset more than the others.
While it is still early, the foundation is being laid. A big part of the analysis is to look at who is laying the right foundation and looking to plug as many holes as they can. Right now, I feel that is Amazon. They are putting the pieces together to offer a suite of tools which will enable the next generation platform of AI and machine learning that can tie together hardware, software, and services from a standard AI and ML platform. The kicker is, anyone can build these tools, not just Amazon.
Interestingly, Amazon has made it possible for all sorts of companies to create competing products to the Echo. Which begs and interesting question: Is the Echo simply a showcase for Amazon’s cloud services which power it? Is Amazon’s end goal to not necessarily make the hardware but provide the platform to enable a new generation of hardware built around their AI platform?
All of this to say, I’m getting pretty bullish on Amazon.
For the interview with Amazon’s VP of Alexa, check out this article by Steven Levy.