Amazon is such a dominant player in so many consumer sectors that it’s easy to forget that the company actually has a few failures under its belt—such as the Amazon Fire smartphone, which debuted to much fanfare in the summer of 2014 only to suffer a spectacular flameout that saw Amazon take a $170 million loss and cease production on the phone a year later. Today, Amazon has new way to conquer the smartphone market—do an end-run around it via its Echo devices and Alexa personal assistant.
By Rick Ferguson
Over at Slate, contributor Christina Bonnington points out how recently revealed Amazon Echo features such as notifications and voice identification will move Echo devices and the Alexa digital assistant away from passively awaiting your commands to becoming an active member of your household. The idea, as this money quote illustrates, is to break our smartphone addiction—at least in our homes—by transforming many traditional smartphone interactions into communal experiences:
“These updates may sound small, but they’re not insignificant. They’re part of a slow, deliberate push to make Amazon Alexa technology the logical evolution out of our dependence on smartphones. Like how the smartphone made accessing information on desktop computers more convenient, voice-enabled home assistants like Alexa could do the same for the information we currently rely on our smartphones for.
“‘We’re trying to get people away from all the personal electronics and create more of a family, communal experience,’ Miriam Daniel, Amazon’s head of product management for Alexa, said in an interview with Fast Company. ‘So you’re not just looking down into your individual phones, and you’re actually collaborating with your family members.’”
Alexa has also infiltrated iOS and Android devices via the Amazon shopping app, and has moved into the automobile sector via the Garmin Speak device. As Fast Company points out, Amazon isn’t driving the trend away from smartphone depends as much as it’s exploiting the growing societal backlash against smartphone addiction, which has led to a cratering economy for app development:
“At the same time, we need a fresh approach to computing. Modern smartphone platforms have become a minefield of distractions, dominated by social media apps whose primary goal is to occupy ever more time. There are already signs that the smartphone-driven ‘attention economy’ has detrimental health effects. Developers are also looking for ways to break free of the smartphone business, which now has a glut of apps that people aren’t using. According to ComScore, the share of U.S. smartphone owners who downloaded zero new apps per month exceeded 50% in June, and nearly three-quarters of smartphone owners downloaded fewer than three apps in that period. A 2015 study by Forrester found that just a handful of tech giants dominate the time users spend on their phones.”
Once Alexa has become a central, communal component of both our home lives and our commutes, Amazon may introduce the next step in its quest to end not only smartphone dominance, but also the dominance of Google and Facebook as well: Turning Alexa into an advertising platform. Money quote from Pymnts.com:
“Sources said the meetings with consumer product companies show Amazon is serious about advertising early in 2018, with different promotional opportunities currently being tested. In one case, Amazon is letting companies reach customers based on what they purchased in the past. In another test, Amazon is allowing brands to promote their goods without being tied to past purchases on the part of the consumer. For example, when someone shops for toothpaste, Alexa could look for a particular brand, say, Colgate. A spokesperson for Amazon told CNBC the company isn’t planning on adding advertisements to Alexa.”
There is one potential minefield in Amazon’s quest to make Alexa the personal assistant to every household on the planet: Consumer privacy. Amazon customers understand, and implicitly accept, that Amazon leverages their shopping and browsing data on the Amazon site and its devices to tailor product offers; that personalization is a key differentiator for the retailer, and one to which every other retailer of significant scale is attempting to catch up. It’s a different story, however, when Alexa surreptitiously links your purchase behavior to your voice, in your own home, and then serves up paid product placements in response to your queries; the potential for backlash is real. To maintain consumer trust, Amazon will need to make this service both transparent and opt-in—perhaps Amazon Prime members can opt into the advertising platform in exchange for deeper product discounts funded by manufacturers.
Potential missteps aside, however, Amazon is serious about leveraging Echo devices and Alexa to break our addiction to smartphones. In an early sign of the company’s success on this front, Alexa recently became the top-selling app in Apple’s App store—a development tied directly to the number consumers who received Echo devices as holiday gifts. Sorry, Siri.
Rick Ferguson is Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group and a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).