Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is on course to dominate the home. Having set their sights on the car and the office next, where else will Alexa go?
With up to 40% of UK homes and 60% of US homes expected to have a smart speaker by the end of 2018, voice assistants are fast becoming a part of people’s daily lives; 60% of Echo owners use their device at least 4 times per day.
With Amazon boasting more than 70% of the market for smart speakers, as well as a rapidly evolving line of products and developments like Alexa Kids Skills, Alexa seems well on the way to dominating the home, but the company isn’t stopping there. As consumers become more and more familiar and comfortable with voice assistants, and Amazon continue an ambitious programme of initiatives to take Alexa beyond the home, where else is Alexa set to appear?
“60% of Echo owners use their device at least 4 times per day.”
The car is one of the most natural places to use a voice assistant. We’ve had handsfree calling for years, and with countries like the UK penalising the use of a phone while driving, a voice assistant fills the void in handling calls, finding services and directions, and controlling an infotainment system. Alexa’s early success in the home is key to winning in the car, where it faces strong competition from Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s Siri CarPlay.
Toyota, Lexus, Ford, Nissan, and BMW have all announced initiatives to bake Alexa into their upcoming models, while third party products like Roav’s VIVA and Garmin’s Speak allow existing car models to be augmented to include voice assistance. This provides a big opportunity for a wide range of brands, from communications and entertainment companies to retailers looking to direct drivers to nearby stores or place orders en route for faster pickup, to public services providing easy-to-access updates on traffic and road conditions.
With the launch of Alexa for Business, Amazon is making a clear play at Microsoft’s control of the office, despite the announcement of a partnership integrating Alexa with Cortana. Alexa boasts a raft of connectivity and productivity skills for businesses to help manage their meetings, calls, schedules, and more. While this has been a promising start for Alexa in the office, it still faces some barriers, such as the assistant’s restricted ability to discern and focus on a single voice amid the general background chatter of an office and concerns around having an always-listening device on company property.
Asides from these issues, to make the leap to being a business must-have Alexa needs to be able to control PCs themselves. HP took an early lead with the announcement of the HP Pavilion Wave with Alexa built in, but giving a whole workforce new, high-end PCs is impractical. Being able to upgrade existing PCs, either by connecting an Echo directly (much more feasible with the Dot’s £50/$50 price tag) or a software solution using relatively standard microphones and speakers will open up a much greater variety of software to voice control.
“An easy-to-use voice assistant could handle complex, multi-stage interactions such as bringing up custom reports”
An easy-to-use voice assistant could handle complex, multi-stage interactions such as bringing up custom reports, finding suitable business travel arrangements quickly, or opening browser tabs in the background without interrupting a worker’s flow. For businesses the opportunity lies in cutting the time spent on administrative tasks, allowing workers to focus on higher value uses of their time.
We even developed our own in-house studio assistant, Jarvis, to test out use in-office cases including ordering groceries and stationery, integrating with Office 365 to allow the checking of calendars and booking of meeting rooms, and finding key staff.
Google is already developing its Assistant for factory and warehouse environments with its addition to the new Enterprise edition of its revamped Google Glass AR headset, partnering with companies in a range of industries to boost productivity, cut training time, and reduce errors. While Amazon hasn’t yet made any indication that it plans to go into industrial environments, its all-in approach to Alexa suggests it won’t sit idle while Google fine tunes their Assistant for these workspaces. Despite Amazon not having an AR device of its own, AR hardware specialists Vuzix introduced Alexa-enabled smart glasses at CES in 2018 which could provide a route for Amazon to compete with Google.
The big win for manufacturers in voice control is hands-free working, cutting the need to turn away from the task at hand to consult a manual, checklist, or touchscreen device, while direct control of equipment could speed up tasks, particularly when changing between device operating settings.
Boston Children’s Hospital have been pioneering the use of Alexa in the daily operations of hospital staff. From controlling equipment in surgery, to cutting the time taken to draw draw blood by 15 to 30 minutes per patient, their early initiatives have been met with enthusiasm by staff, while the hospital is also exploring the possibilities of patients being able to control heating, lighting and more from their bed by voice alone.
Beyond the hospital, Brewster Ambulance Service in Massachusetts is making their treatment protocol documents available through Alexa to give paramedics quick access to standard procedures handsfree, while Libertana care homes in California is exploring how Alexa can improve the quality of care for the elderly with their medications, post-surgery care, and keeping in touch with loved ones. Again with care providers, the focus is on making it easier for staff to access information and cut administrative time, an effect they are aiming to reinforce by using voice to enable patient self-care.
“The focus is on making it easier for staff to access information and cut administrative time”
While Alexa may already seem dominant in the home market, Amazon thinks there is yet more it could do. A growing number of third party device makers are baking Alexa into their products, with Sony, Hisense, and LG launching Alexa-compatible tvs in 2018, and a rumoured Fire TV Cube to upgrade older tvs in the pipeline as well. It’s created child-friendly Echo devices and is supposedly even working on a domestic robot. This is on top of upgrades to Alexa itself, such as the recent addition of Blueprints to encourage Echo owners to expand out beyond the assistant’s native abilities and test out third party skills.
These improvements offer some of the biggest opportunities to brands. As the assistant gains a better understanding of users’ daily patterns and consumption habits and becomes smarter at understanding context and proactively suggesting products and information to help users, brands can find themselves well placed to fit naturally into interactions at times where they have maximum relevance to the consumer.
While we are already seeing Alexa’s expansion into the above areas, there are still some places which will take a little longer before seeing commonplace use of voice assistants. Busy public spaces still present a challenge to their natural language systems; at present they struggle to pick out a single voice amid multiple speakers, and can’t adjust their volume to respond to the rise and fall of ambient noise.
Of course, given the rapid pace at which voice platforms are evolving, it’s not a problem we expect to last. Both Google and Amazon have made big improvements in natural language recognition and even have limited biometrics to identify individuals’ voiceprints. Once this technology is consistently able to hold a conversation in these scenarios (and public familiarity with voice platforms reaches the same level as smartphones), public space uses of voice will trigger another major slate of opportunities for brands, ranging from customer service to public service delivery and retail support. Until then we have a wealth of opportunities in which to explore and refine the use of voice, Alexa may rule the home, but there’s still a whole world to talk to.
If you’re looking to see how voice assistants like Alexa could make an impact in your organisation, get in touch, we’d love to talk.