Amazon Is King of Digital Assistants — For Now


Apple’s Siri has been around five years, but Amazon’s Alexa is the coolest kid on the voice-computing block now.

At least, so it seemed at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where many manufacturers touted their Alexa functionality as a major selling point for 35 new product introductions, including a car, refrigerator, smartphone, robot, Internet router and vacuum cleaner.

“There’s a real hunger for the next big thing,” says Benedict Evans, a partner with investment firm Andreessen Horowitz. “It was Web apps, then bots, and now it’s voice interfaces.”

Voice computing eases up on the hands, to use your voice to play music and podcasts, control the smart home, answer questions and in Amazon’s case, make it easier to buy products.

Alexa is the assistant star of Amazon’s $179 Echo and $39 Dot speakers, products that were sold out at the end of 2016 and are still unavailable. They won’t start shipping again until the end of the month, says the e-tailer.

Did Alexa end up in all those new products at CES — categories you won’t find Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, because Alexa was so much better at voice? Or was it just brilliant marketing and dumb luck?

Maybe for question 1, and a definite yes for number 2.

“If you want to add a voice assistant to your product, you can try to build it on your own, or do a partnership with Amazon, which already has brand recognition,” Evans says.

Apple wasn’t at CES, and Siri is still locked within the iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computers. Cortana is also a Microsoft products exclusive, while rival Google is signing up partners to work with its new Google Home connected speaker, cutting deals with Mercedes Benz and Hyundai to bring Google Assistant to the car. Its list of partners online is small, especially compared to Amazon, but there’s a good reason.

“Amazon had a year’s head start on Google,” says Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies. The Echo initially was released to the general public in 2015.

“I spoke to a lot of vendors at CES, and they told me Alexa was the most available AI-based operating system they could hang their shingle to work with,” Bajarin adds.

Amazon admits the company has been on an ambitious plan to sign up partners to spread Alexa everywhere. “We‘ll never be able to build all the potential devices out there between smart home and wearables, and automobiles,” Amazon Alexa vice president Steve Rabuchin recently told USA TODAY. “We can’t do it alone.”

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jefferson Graham

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