Yesterday’s “surprise” Amazon event was a stunning display of bravado from the so-called everything store. It gave us the clearest view yet of what Amazon’s home operating system will look like. The interface is your voice, and the hardware is everything you see around you. The peripherals are standard household items that are embedded with invisible microphones and integrated together through software and a vast array of interconnecting services.
Google and Apple have their own stories to tell, with smartphones and speakers playing central roles. But neither company has put the pieces together as cohesively as Amazon, whose story is told through a spate of Alexa products of good-enough quality that can be easily delivered to your doorstep at cutthroat pricing.
Take, for instance, yesterday’s introduction of the AmazonBasics Microwave. On its own, it seems silly. (And having to push a button to say “stop” is ridiculous.) But it heralds a warning to the home appliance industry: if you don’t integrate Alexa, we’ll do it ourselves and undercut you on the price. Nobody is that loyal to their microwave brand.
Consider how the microwave, or the inevitable AmazonBasics Oven, fits into the larger Amazon ecosystem of products and services, both real and imagined.
You’re returning home on your evening commute, tired and lacking the inspiration to prepare a family meal. “Alexa,” you say to your Audi E-tron, “deliver that butter chicken Meal Kit I ordered last month to my home.”
”God, I love Whole Foods,” you mutter aloud, knowing tonight’s menu is finalized.
Your AmazonBasics Garage Door opens as you come within range. As the door lifts, you find the meal sitting inside and waiting for you, thanks to the Amazon Key service. You park your car and plug it into the receptacle installed by Amazon Home Services. Alexa Guard then tells the security system to stand down as you enter the house.
Your usual playlist?
And because you’ve come home at your usual time, Alexa Hunches asks, “Your usual playlist?” “Sure, that’d be fine,” you respond, as you kiss your kids. Your Echo Show is already displaying the Meal Kit recipe as you walk into the kitchen. “Alexa, let’s get cooking,” you pronounce, as you set a timer on the Echo Wall Clock.
As you eat, your AmazonBasics Refrigerator, fitted with scanning technologies perfected in Amazon Go’s cashier-less stores, notices your milk is low and orders a new jug via the Dash Replenishment service.
After dinner, with the kids in bed, you fold into the couch with a warm drink. “Alexa, start Ozark in the living room,” you say, as the lights dim around you, the shades fall, and the Echo Sub rumbles to life.
Thank you, Jeff Bezos, you think, wondering how people survived before Alexa.
It’s so much easier to have the room listening
Amazon was first with its Echo smart speaker in 2014. And while it might feel like smart speakers with voice assistants are everywhere, they haven’t truly broken into the mainstream yet. As of July, about 18 percent of American homes had a smart speaker installed, up from 16 percent in January, according to a report from Edison Research and NPR. By comparison, 95 percent of Americans own smartphones, according to Pew Research.
If you own a smart speaker, then you already understand how frictionless the experience is when issuing voice commands at home. It’s so much easier to have a room listening than a mobile device that might be in your pocket, a bag, or charging in another room. So while Apple and Google might dominate the smart assistant market on phones, it doesn’t mean they’ll dominate the home.
If you thought the battle for the home would be fought with speakers and phones, then you have severely underestimated Amazon’s ambitions.