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Why Amazon is putting Alexa everywhere

Matt Kapko | May 11, 2017
The head of Amazon’s Alexa business explains why the company is investing heavily in voice services for manufacturers of various device types.

Amazon Alexa

 Amazon has quickly built a commanding lead on voice-enabled digital assistants, but the company’s vision for bringing Alexa to connected devices as diverse as light switches, automobiles and household appliances is just getting underway. Amazon’s plans for Alexa are more widespread than any device category or the constraints of Amazon’s own hardware aspirations, Steve Rabuchin, vice president of Amazon Alexa, said at last week’s Collision conference.

“We have this vision of Alexa everywhere,” he said. “We can’t do it all ourselves. There’s no way we’re going to build every smart home device and every wearable… so we opened that up.” Voice-controlled technology is a “significant new interface that humans will use. It’s very convenient and it makes hard things simple.”

 

Amazon’s family of Alexa devices expands

Amazon currently sells five different Alexa-enabled devices under its own brand, including the original Echo, Tap and Echo Dot. The company has also announced two new devices -- Echo Show and Echo Look -- in as many weeks.

The market for voice-enabled speakers or digital assistants is young, but increasingly vibrant as Google and others try to replicate Amazon’s success of late. Amazon controls 70 percent of the U.S. market and 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month this year, according to a new report from eMarketer.

“People have been working on voice and artificial intelligence for decades, but it was really the perfect storm of [Amazon Web Services] with unlimited compute out in the cloud, machine learning and deep learning to really bring these services together,” Rabuchin said, reflecting on the history of Alexa to date.

He also compares Amazon’s experience with Alexa, and its resulting trajectory, to that of AWS. “We felt that we got really good at building our own infrastructure -- scaling it, making it easy for development teams to build on it without being tied together -- so we offered that platform up and it’s become a pretty decent sized business for us,” he said.

“We view Alexa the same way,” Rabuchin said. “We believe the next big phase is voice and we’re investing heavily in it. We have thousands of people working on Alexa.”

 

Alexa integrations proliferate in 2017

Manufacturers of automobiles, kitchen appliances, door locks, sprinklers, garage-door openers and many other recently connected products are working to bring to Alexa or a similar voice-driven service to their devices. At least 40 companies announced new Alexa integrations earlier this year and others have followed since then.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out today where is voice in their strategy so we’re in a lot of early discussions with companies as their ideating what to do next and how to integrate voice with their products,” Rabuchin said. “We’re investing quite well in this area of the Alexa family as well.”

 

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