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Why Amazon is the new Microsoft

16 January 2018

From TechConnect:

A few years ago, chatbots were supposed to take over as a leading way to interact with the internet. They would live on our phones and in our messaging apps. Whenever we needed anything, all we had to do was type out a question.

Things are turning out … differently.

Chatbots, bots, virtual assistants and agents are all about the conversational UI — about interacting with a computer through natural-language words and sentences.

The conventional wisdom used to be that the chatbot revolution would be driven by pre-emption, interjection and agency, as exemplified by Facebook M and Google Now.

Instead, the killer features are hands-free voice interaction and ubiquity — the main strengths of the Amazon Alexa platform.

. . . .

Facebook M is dead.

Facebook plans to close it’s M chatbot service on Jan. 19.

Facebook M, which launched in August 2015, was experimental, available to only 10,000 people in Silicon Valley.

When M first emerged, it was widely assumed to represent the future of how chatbots should and would work.

. . . .

Google Now is dead, too — sort of.

A few years ago, the conventional wisdom in tech circles was that Google Now was the most sophisticated virtual assistant.

Google Now was introduced in Android in the summer of 2012.

The best thing about Google Now was pre-emption: Display cards would pop up to alert you to things (rather than waiting for you to ask). Google Now used your location, calendar and, above all, Gmail messages to figure out what kind of help you needed, and it would try to give you that help with suggestion cards. One of its best tricks was to see on your calendar where you were going, check your current location, check the traffic between those locations, and give you advice about when to leave.

Meanwhile, the coolest feature of Google Assistant is interjection, which means it will pay attention to conversations in Allo and make suggestions based on the conversation.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone uses Allo, and so the amazing interjection powers of the Google Assistant are largely unknown and generally unused by the larger public.

. . . .

A couple of years ago, Amazon Alexa was considered to be the weakest and least sophisticated chatbot or virtual assistant on the market. (Oddly, MS-DOS and, later, Microsoft Windows initially had similar reputations.)

While agency, including the ability to buy things, was once assumed to be an important feature of a virtual assistant, it’s clear even for Alexa that buying things is secondary.

According to an Experian study last year, fewer than one-third of surveyed Echo owners have ever bought something through Alexa.

The vast majority of tasks involve setting a timer, playing a song, reading the news, checking the time — really, the most basic functions of a smartphone made convenient by voice interaction.

And yet Amazon is clearly dominating the space. This week’s CES showed that the industry is following Amazon’s lead.

Alexa appeared at the show inside projectors, ceiling lights, cars, glasses, showers, washing machines, earbuds, speakers — and even Windows 10 PCs.

. . . .

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos this week became the world’s richest person, according to the Forbes list. Over the past few decades, that spot was normally occupied by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.

The symbolism is timely; it was at CES this week that Amazon became the new Microsoft.

Microsoft rose to dominance by controlling the operating system that the majority of people and businesses used.

Amazon is now doing something similar with Alexa. While Alexa isn’t even close to becoming as important as Windows, it is becoming the operating system of the post-PC, post-smartphone future.

The reason is very simple, and perfectly described by Sam Dolnick, who oversees digital initiatives at The New York Times. He said: “We are living in a world where the mobile phone is dominant, and audio, which doesn’t require your eyes or your hands, is the ultimate mobile medium.”

Link to the rest at TechConnect

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26 Comments to “Why Amazon is the new Microsoft”

  1. Google Assistant is bundled with Google Now, and I find it to me, by far, the most robust of all four major virtual assistants. Google Now IS my newsfeed, and almost never fails to remind me of appointments without my having to set it up. It prompts me to add things to my calendar, as well. Alexa, I have not found to be as useful, although I do use it for Amazon stuff. But not as a personal assistant in my business and life. Siri and Cortana are almost useless.

  2. “… audio, which doesn’t require your eyes or your hands, is the ultimate mobile medium.”
    But it does require *checks for hearing aid batteries* hearing, which I for one, don’t do very well at. Voice operated thingies don’t have any attraction for me. The ad for I think Xfinity showing Dad surrounded by sleeping family talking to his remote control never made sense. I don’t think they were dead and he was calling the police… It had a pretty short run, for Xfinity ads.
    YMMV, of course, especially if you forswore Guns ‘n Roses concerts in your youth (or your kids’ youth).

    • Audio is my least favorite medium, unless I’m listening to an audiobook on a long car ride.

      It’s SLOW. It can’t be skimmed. It proceeds at its pace, instead of mine.

      And it breaks the silence I need to function.

      If a site starts playing random stuff, video and audio and its choice of volume, I immediately get out of there.

      And it makes people look like idiots, with the not very obvious earbuds, listening and responding to things that are not there for the rest of us.

      Want to torture me? Make me listen to a podcast.

    • Also requires voice, which not everyone has.

    • > hearing

      I wouldn’t mind having an Alexa-thing that could listen to people and then repeat what they said back to me.

      After finally getting hearing aids, I found there was no use in wearing them, since most people can’t actually speak English. “Mnnnnmnmnmnmnnnm”-whine, gangabanga hiphop, and Tourettes’-level stream-of-consciousness are beyond my ability to decipher.

      If Alexa is making sense of that kind of gibberish, I could find a use for it.

      As long as I could shut it off when I didn’t want it…

  3. The idea that people in modern open-plan offices will all be interacting with their computers using voice input and output is ridiculous, and is usually being touted by someone selling something.

    • The people who hype voice interfaces aren’t thinking “corporate” but rather “consumer”.
      Corporate has some use for voice but screens are still mandatory.

      Flash back to the late 90’s and the days of Pen Computing hype to see how it’s going to play out in the corporate space. People will first try to put it everywhere. Lots of fiascos. Eventually they’ll identify those few niches were there is added value. Eventually.

      Now, consumer is a different story. Voice + home automation is a monster of a win. There will be a couple more, small wins. But that will be after the hypestorm blows away.

    • Not so ridiculous. 10 years ago when my team was in a corporate open plan office, a headset was standard issue. The team had members on 3 or 4 different continents and talked constantly. Headsets were a necessity. I imagine they still are. A decent headset cuts out the xtalk. Voice i/o can work nicely in that environment. It’s a matter of individual work-styles.

      • And the nature of the job itself.
        Voice might enhance certain functions, say in modal applications, but as the sole input/output mechanism it will be severely limited in others.
        It’s a replay of Pen Computing. Vital for some applications but contraindicated for many others.

  4. Amazon is the new Amazon?
    In some ways.
    They are definitely being demonized like Microsoft ca 1995.
    Hopefully, unlike MS in those days, they have more than one part time lobbyist in DC and have a few bought and paid for politicians in their pocket.

    • That should be “Amazon is the new Microsoft?”

    • ‘..they have more than one part time lobbyist in DC and have a few bought and paid for politicians in their pocket.’

      So cynical! I most sincerely hope Bezos is smart enough not to have to do business like that. 🙁

      • If he doesn’t Amazon will get the same treatment Microsoft got for not contributing enough corporate funds to the politicians.

        (All MS political contributions at the time were personal not corporate.)

        And then the Netscape CEO became the top bundler for Clinton in California and after the election Janet Reno got a call to make him happy.

        All that is a matter of record.

        As is the fact that MS now has one of the larger contingents in DC and regularly provide PCs and free software to Congress people. Most companies in the tech world got the message so the politicians were happy even though MS wasn’t broken up in three, Windows remains dominant on the desktop 20 years later, and Netscape continued on their death spiral. The pols got their vig and that was what they wanted.

        • I’m not denying it happens under the label of ‘lobbying’, but Amazon succeeded despite not doing what all the other companies were doing. If Bezos caves to the soft-corruption game of ‘gifting’ politicians, the ones to suffer long term will be /us/.
          Apologies but Amazon is the /only/ large company that I admire.

          • Well, of course consumers suffer.
            The cost added by the politicians and bureaucrats gets added to the sale price.

            Do you show up to an announced gunfight with a pair of boxing gloves? Unarmed?

            Once one player alerts the politicians there is money to be had in a market they don’t back off. Rather they descend en masse.

            If you look up the history you’ll find that all the calls for antitrust or congressional action against Amazon echo the calls made against Microsoft 20 years ago. And just like then there are attempts to find an angle of attack even if it means importing legal theory from outside the US, or twisting existing law all out of shape?

            How often do you see a judge say the defendant did no harm but I’m going to punish them anyway?

            Bezos would have to be an idiot to hear all the baying dogs calling for a lynching of Amazon and do nothing despite of what happened to Microsoft.

            And he isn’t.
            Amazon’s publicly reported lobbying has been growing steadily. Even faster than their online sales are growing:


            It’s self defense.

            • So there is open corruption that everybody knows about and accepts as normal?
              In certain much maligned countries that might be known as ‘baksheesh’.

              • Oh, just because it’s common knowledge doesn’t mean it’s accepted.

                But every once in a while a congressman gets caught and arrested with a brown bag with $30K. (Seems to be the going rate in the House. Senators are a lot more expensive.)

                Most politicians aren’t that blatant and merely call it “serving their constituents”. And many wrap themselves in principle like “protecting competition” or “looking out for the little people”.

                • So the politicians take bribes – let’s not mince words – because everyone does it, and the corporations offer bribes, again because everyone does it…
                  A member of the Labor party here in Australia – Sam Dastyari – was caught getting cosy with some Chinese business man, twice. He was finally kicked out but now I wonder whether he wasn’t just the tip of the iceberg, the one blatant idiot who got caught.
                  Could I get any more disillusioned?
                  I will never understand why so many Americans picked a certain person to be their ‘champion’ against the swamp, but I’m starting to understand why they need a champion in the first place. 🙁

                • I’ve just published a post on my blog [Meeka’s Mind] about this conversation we’ve been having. I’ve quoted from our replies and referenced back to this post on TPV. My post is titled ‘Sam Dastyari – one rotten apple or the tip of the iceberg?’
                  Essentially I want to know if things are as bad here at home. 🙁
                  You can read the post here:

                • Remember: it’s not always bribes.

                  The less stupid politicians don’t take direct bribes. They take campaign contrbutions, million dollar book advances, contributions to a spouse’s Foundation, get sweetheart deals on buying a mansion.

                  On the corporate side: if company A is sending out poison pen letters to a friendly politician they supported during the campaign, Company B had better have comparable access to counter the poison pen campaign. Microsoft didn’t and it cost them.

                  Look up the comments from senator Schumer when the DOJ filed the antitrust case against the price fixers. Very fast, very firm kneejerk defense. No need for facts.


                  Then the DOJ published their evidence and he just went away. Never took back his anti-Amazon rants.

                  It’s a standard feature of modern democracies.
                  Again, look it up. Try URANIUM ONE, for a recent brouhaha

                • Terrence P OBrien

                  I will never understand why so many Americans picked a certain person to be their ‘champion’ against the swamp, but I’m starting to understand why they need a champion in the first place.

                  They are looking for results. For example, thousands of under-performing Veterans Administration employees have been fired in the last year. The new 15-day dismissal regulations allow for what had previously been an almost impossible task.

  5. Amazon is now doing something similar with Alexa. While Alexa isn’t even close to becoming as important as Windows, it is becoming the operating system of the post-PC, post-smartphone future.

    Today’s conventional wisdom?

  6. Human beings are hardwired to look for the easiest way of doing everything. This makes us pretty efficient at some things and not so smart about others.
    ‘“We are living in a world where the mobile phone is dominant, and audio, which doesn’t require your eyes or your hands, is the ultimate mobile medium.”’
    is the easiest way of getting things done in the digital age because it requires next to no specialist knowledge or ‘learned’ expertise. We all learned to talk so long ago that talking is ‘intuitive’.
    Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the virtual assistants are quite smart enough yet.

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