But it most certainly won’t be the last. Beyond the home, it’s evident that Amazon is determined to embed Alexa in mobile devices and in offices.
Alexa and Echo, Amazon’s companion Internet-connected speaker device, already have a strong presence in the living room, making Echo an unexpected hit. In the U.S., more than 8.2 million people have an Echo, according to market research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Not bad for a product that became broadly available less than two years ago. Using Alexa, owners can command Echo to play a movie, order a pizza, or check bank balances.
But you can bet that Amazon (amzn) thinks Alexa will do well in the outside world.
At the company’s annual AWS Re:invent cloud computing event in Las Vegas late last year, it unveiled Amazon Lex, a tool to help developers build speech recognition into their own software, as well as Amazon Polly, which will let them add text-to-speech recognition. Those resources could provide the foundations to some interesting scenarios in the office, where workers may start controlling printers or coffee machine, among other electronics, via spoken or typed commands.
“Amazon absolutely has designs beyond the home,” says Werner Goertz, research director of market research firm Gartner (it).
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But this is a dynamic market with several gigantic tech companies—Google, Microsoft (msft), and Apple in addition to Amazon—investing in artificial intelligence, and other technology to provide consumers and business professionals with the smartest, interactive software.
And to paraphrase Liam Neeson in the movie Taken, each contestant has its own particular set of skills.
If you want to find a new microwave, book, virtually any other consumer product, Alexa is probably the personal digital assistant for you. What is Amazon’s core expertise? Selling stuff. What does it have a ton of data about? Products for sale. And as we all know—because he keeps telling us—Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos is all about erasing every bit of friction between a would-be buyer and what he or she may want to buy.
For more on Alexa, watch:
But if you are more interested in general, non-transactional things, Google (goog) gets the nod.
“When it comes to general subjects, Google is ahead,” says Holger Mueller, analyst with Constellation Research. “Example: Alexa doesn’t know when my favorite soccer team—AC Milan—plays, but Google Home does.” Google Home is an Echo competitor announced last year.
Apple’s strength lies in the popularity of its Siri-equipped iPhones, which it hopes to make the centerpiece of the connected home. Two years ago, it released HomeKit, a software toolset that lets companies tie their own products into Siri. Several companies showed off HomeKit-compliant products at the big CES gadget expo in Las Vegas in January.
Microsoft Cortana, which competes with Alexa and Siri, comes with Windows 10 PCs and laptops, which may give it a boost in corporate environments. And, since Microsoft has done poorly with its own Windows smart phones, it’s offering Cortana for Apple iOS and Android devices as well.
When it comes to smart virtual personal assistants—as Siri, Alexa, and Cortana are known collectively—its important to remember that the heavy lifting comes from the cloud—Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure, not the device itself. This cloud infrastructure comprises data centers around the world packed with servers, storage, and software that parses user requests and returns answers.
Apple, which pioneered the market with Siri starting five years ago, may be the odd man out because it does not offer enterprise cloud services on par with Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. Those companies aggregate massive amounts of servers and storage in data centers around the world that they rent to customers.
As of now, Amazon looks to have the lead on the home front with Echo/Alexa; Google and Apple are strong on phones and tablets; and Microsoft hopes to parlay its strength in businesses. And all of them have their eye on everyone else’s turf.
Looks to be a good old fashioned melee, so pull up a chair.