Last night I was wrapping up some weekend to-do list items in my home office when my four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter walked in. We had given them a bath a half hour earlier and they had just finished a 20-minute session in their bounce house (their Christmas present this year) in the basement.
“Lexa, play ‘What Does the Fox Say’,” Ava said with a huge smile on her face.
“Alexa, play ‘What Does the Fox Say,” Evan said, offering a little bit of assistance.
“Playing ‘Fox, What Does the Fox Say’ by Ylvis on Spotify Music,” Alexa responded.
For the next 15 minutes, the kids had a dance party, telling their friend Alexa to play everything from “I Like to Move It” to “You Give Love a Bad Name.” My wife and I danced with them. It was a great time.
Alexa wasn’t the fifth person in the room, although she certainly acts like it sometimes. She’s the operating system on my Amazon Echo Dot.
On Friday I got back from Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where I had spent the week meeting with partners and checking out the latest technology. I walked the showroom floor, stopping to see the cool (a game where you fire a nerf-like gun at drones) and the not-so-cool (a recliner that shakes your way to weight loss).
While there was a lot of talk about virtual reality and augmented reality, I left with the impression that voice technology was going to overtake those as the biggest technology of 2017.
First off, virtual reality has an uphill battle: there is a need for product adoption (glasses, headsets, seats that move, etc.). This reminds me of 3D TVs — interesting concept, but expensive hardware. Augmented reality has a better chance of overtaking VR, at least in the near term because you can use a device you already own (your phone) to change the landscape of the world around you. It’s hard to get fully immersed in that though, where VR has the advantage.
Voice technology, however, is being integrated into technology and products we already have relationships with. Cars, refrigerators, lights and more are all integrating with this technology. Much of it is built upon Alexa, which is the operating system of record for the technology. (Echo is the product Amazon released to run Alexa, yet Alexa can be integrated on many products not owned by Amazon — i.e. Microsoft Windows or Google Android.)
What my earlier story highlights is the fact that my kids love music, yet if they wanted to listen to these songs they love, they’d have to ask. They know how to navigate YouTube, but only video after video. They know how to turn on the TV, but not the channels they love. They can even turn on a computer, but not navigate the web.
When they want to play a video on YouTube, they ask us. When they want to watch television, they ask us. Voice is the most natural form of communication in the world. So when they want to hear their favorite song, all they have to do is ask.
And Alexa answers.