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Amazon Seeks to Defend Alexa’s Lead as Competition Heats Up

1 September 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc.  is pouring more resources into Alexa to maintain its edge as competition heats up among artificial-intelligence assistants, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking.

Amazon is adding hundreds of engineers to the Alexa program and giving it hiring preference over other divisions, the people said. It has also put Tom Taylor, a veteran Amazon executive known for scaling high-growth operations, in charge of the business, after the former Alexa chief retired.

Alexa powers Amazon’s Echo speaker device, which was the first of its kind when it was launched nearly three years ago. The Echo has about three-quarters of the U.S. market for smart speakers, with more than 11 million total devices sold through the end of last year, according to analyst estimates.

. . . .

On Wednesday, Amazon said it was teaming up with Microsoft to allow their voice-enabled digital assistants to work together, a move analysts said would help boost Alexa’s content. But the two won’t be sharing data.

Amazon draws its user data primarily from its retail website, which gives it a big advantage when it comes to shopping and other related machine learning, and its Echo devices.

Google gathers data from its widely used search engine in addition to its Android operating system for smartphones. It is directing its voice assistant at Amazon’s stronghold, e-commerce, with the partnership it announced with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. last week. Users of its Google Express shopping service will be able to order from the retail giant by voice via Google’s virtual assistant.

. . . .

Amazon also integrated Alexa with outside developers and products, adding more than 15,000 skills that allow consumers to ask Alexa to digitally shake a Magic 8-ball or turn on the lights. Alexa has also been added to devices ranging from Ford Motor Co. cars to Sears Holdings Corp.’s Kenmore refrigerators, which Google is also trying to do.

Still, Amazon needs Alexa to keep getting smarter. Josh Vickerson picked up a Dot late last year when it was on sale for $35. The 24-year-old originally tried out features like playing Jeopardy and integrating his Fitbit . Now he uses it to play videos, set timers and turn off the lights.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Casa PG obtained its first Echo (which is currently marked down to $99) not long after it was first released. Since then, a flock of little Dots (also marked down) have shown up.

PG doesn’t claim to be a power user, but does have enough Dots that one is always within easy reach of his voice. They’re turning out to be very helpful and PG uses them for far fewer services than they can provide.

PG understands that his Echo and Dots will soon be able to control Casa PG’s Sonos speakers (very highly recommended). That will be wonderful. PG probably needs to buy a couple more Dots so whenever he whispers a command, Sonos starts playing.

Amazon, Google

10 Comments to “Amazon Seeks to Defend Alexa’s Lead as Competition Heats Up”

  1. We’re big Alexa fans here. Just yesterday, I was finally able to use a just released capability and link up all our devices into a house-wide synchronized music system. Being a typically impatient user, I wonder why Amazon didn’t do this sooner but it’s nice to have at last.

  2. Is there a male version of Alexa/Siri/Cortana? I would use these if they had male voices.

    • Not yet.
      I had some hope for Samsung’s BIXBY but that one is also a female voice.
      Curse you Stanley Kubrick! 😉

  3. We don’t have an echo but Alexa is on our Fire TV stick. My 10-year-old autistic son has a habit of talking to her as if she’s a real person. All the kids get a real kick out of asking her to sing songs or tell jokes. But then it always escalates until my son is yelling at her for not knowing the answers to his questions. lol

  4. I picked up an Echo last Prime Day. It makes a wonderful laundry timer. I don’t think to use it for much, although posts like this remind me of things I want to try. So far, the most useful thing has been my flash briefing, customized news and weather without commercials.

  5. I play Jeopardy with Alexa/Echo every morning, use it to turn on the lights in the house, scan the videos of the outside cameras, get the forecast/temperature and occasionally tell me a joke. I have a small army of Dots around the house and I love to hear Alexa read a book to me while I clean. It has become such a mainstay that the commands are almost unconscious, “Alexa, turn on the office light.” First time visitors to my house are always amazed at what it can do. I doubt, however, that I’ll connect the locks or the thermostat to Alexa. I don’t want everything automated.

  6. As someone who has been told he talks in his sleep (and has been heard role playing his characters when awake), I’ll forgo this neat toy – it’s safer that way … 😉

  7. I’m a big fan of Alexa and the Echo, but the music functionality and app do need improving. Try asking her to play “Vicky Verky” from the album “Argy Bargy,” and she’s like Nomad at the end of the “Changeling” episode. Same with “Masoko Tanga.”

    In all seriousness, though, what’s the advantage of using Sonos with Alexa? Is it about the improved speaker quality, or is the Sonos app better as well? (The native Alexa app is terrible for searching and runs slow.)

  8. Thus is an area where some small outfit can walk in and disrupt everything. A guy walks into Google, Walmart, Facebook, MS, or Amazon, puts his device on the desk, and starts a conversation with his AI. Maybe he visits all of them. It’s better than anything out there.

    A bidding war among the giants? License it to them all? Substantial commercial advantage built up over years can be wiped out in a few minutes.

    We have a new, powerful, and well-established industry today, with many supporters. They got there by disrupting the old. Now, they are the old. Their political activity indicates they are following the old patterns in exerting their power. They are no longer the disrupters. That’s what typically gets disrupted.

    Maybe the guy will just call Jack Ma?

  9. Only 11 million units sold? That sounds low to me. I have two Echoes and an Echo Show. Ditto for my daughter.

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