Greater than 100 million gadgets with Alexa on board have been bought. That’s the all-too-rare precise quantity that Amazon’s SVP of gadgets and providers, Dave Limp, revealed to me earlier this week. That’s to not say Amazon has lastly determined to be fully clear about gadget gross sales, nevertheless. Whereas the corporate claims it outstripped its most optimistic expectations for the Echo Dot throughout the vacation season, Limp wouldn’t give a quantity for that. As an alternative, Limp says, Amazon is bought out of Dots by January, regardless of “pushing pallets of Echo Dots onto 747s and getting them from Hong Kong to right here as shortly as we probably may.”
However again to that 100 million quantity. Relying on the way you rely, it’s both severely spectacular or a major problem for Amazon. On the one hand, 100 million pales compared to the variety of telephones which have both Siri or Google Assistant pre-installed. However, the phrase “pre-installed” is the important thing factor to concentrate to. With Alexa gadgets, you would argue, customers are making an lively option to buy an assistant as a substitute of simply getting a default.
It’s been some time since we’ve had , old style, knock-down, drag-out, winner-take-all platform struggle. However one may be brewing proper now on this planet of clever assistants. As in any platform struggle, the numbers come out entrance and middle, and Amazon has the lead on lots of these numbers: greater than 150 merchandise with Alexa in-built, greater than 28,000 good house gadgets that work with Alexa made by greater than four,500 totally different producers, and over 70,000 Alexa expertise builders. The numbers for Google Assistant have been decrease throughout the board the final time we heard them, but it surely’s seemingly Google will use CES to verify in with new ones.
How Amazon acquired to these numbers is much more fascinating than the numbers themselves. Amazon’s technique for Alexa reveals a basic philosophy: communicate softly and empower everybody to only ship.
Is that this actually a platform struggle? Limp, a veteran of Amazon who began out constructing the Kindle, doesn’t appear to assume so — or no less than, he believes that it’s going to play out in another way from platform wars of the previous. “I don’t assume it falls right into a sporting occasion,” Limp says, “the place there’s going to be one winner.” He provides, “There can be a number of gamers for the foreseeable future. I don’t assume it’s solely going to be solely two, both. I believe there can be greater than that.”
It’s simple to see that angle as normal government demurral. Why begin a struggle if you happen to don’t must? However having talked to Limp because the early days of the Kindle, I see it as a part of his character. He’s a laid-back government who’s remarkably candid, pragmatic, and nearly chill about points that different executives would dance round.
As only one instance, Limp doesn’t appear too apprehensive that third-party Alexa gadgets will harm the Alexa model. There are greater than 150 totally different merchandise proper now with Alexa in-built, greater than 100 of which shipped in 2018 and aren’t made by Amazon in any respect. A few of them are fairly nice — the Sonos Beam soundbar and Bose QC35 II headphones are robust examples — however inevitably, a few of them are going to be fairly junky.
However Limp’s not apprehensive. “There are hits and misses,” he says. And although Amazon works to make sure that all the pieces with Alexa follows Amazon’s privateness coverage and doesn’t misuse knowledge, Limp thinks customers received’t pin blame on Alexa in the event that they occur to purchase a dud. He simply needs to verify there’s no less than one good instance of every totally different sort of Alexa-enabled gadget. “So long as there are existence proofs in every of the classes,” Limp argues, customers will determine it out.
One other factor you’d anticipate in a platform struggle: partitions, exclusivity agreements, and stuff that doesn’t work collectively. Limp’s not fascinated by these both. He’s all for permitting gadget makers to create devices that assist a number of assistants. He pointed to the Fb Portal and the partnership with Microsoft to pair up Cortana and Alexa as examples.
After I ask him if Amazon is doing something in contracts with corporations to restrict what they do with different assistants, the query was so outdoors of Limp’s worldview that he’s shocked by it. “Uh, no,” is the straightforward reply. Limp is even open to working with rivals to make totally different assistants work higher collectively — for instance, by letting all of them use the identical normal for figuring out rooms so that you don’t must arrange all the pieces a number of instances.
“We’re nonetheless an enormous believer in a number of assistants,” Limps says. “We expect they’ll work together in a number of alternative ways.” In different phrases, if you happen to’re questioning what’s keeping Sonos from shipping Google Assistant on its devices, don’t blame Amazon. In fact, it’s simple for Limp to be all kumbaya about competitors when Alexa is in a pole place and likewise when different divisions of Amazon are playing hardball with competitors like Google and Apple.
Nonetheless, it’s arduous to not see Alexa, Google, Apple, and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft combating for dominance. And CES is the proper place to look at that struggle play out. It might not be the venue the place The Subsequent Huge Factor will get revealed, however CES is the place to see the place the tendencies are heading.
This 12 months at CES, you possibly can anticipate Google to reprise its shock-and-awe technique of actually wallpapering Las Vegas with “Hey Google” adverts because it erects an enormous sales space within the car parking zone outdoors of the conference middle. Google began a little bit behind Alexa when it launched its Dwelling merchandise, and it’s effectively behind Alexa in the case of third-party assist, so going all-in on the occasion the place all of these third events are partying makes good sense for Google.
However not a lot for Amazon. “Clients don’t care about an advert marketing campaign on the Las Vegas Strip,” Limp says. “They only don’t. It’s taking part in to the trade. It’s not taking part in to who actually issues. Will we’ve got a slide with a diving board and a pool? No, that’s not the plan. However I believe we’re going to have a number of companions with actually good merchandise, which I’m enthusiastic about.”
Amazon received’t have a huge sales space, nor will it stage an over-the-top keynote, however it is going to have a presence. That presence would be the ubiquity of “Works with Alexa” labels on devices all through the present ground alongside new gadgets which have Alexa in them. “CES is about ensuring that the companions we’ve got [are supported],” Limp says. “It’s much less about Amazon itself.”
Relating to Alexa merchandise, that’s simply how Amazon rolls. There’s no clearer instance of how Amazon does issues than the way it introduced the final wave of Echo gadgets. This previous September, Amazon held an occasion in Seattle the place it introduced literally dozens of Echo and Alexa products. It confirmed off new Echos and wall clocks, new screens and wall plugs, and even a microwave.
There was no preamble, no splashy journal function, simply Amazon saying one thing like, “Right here is all the pieces we’re releasing. Right here’s what they do. Have at it.” That technique can backfire. It actually doesn’t construct hype, and it makes all of it too simple for products to get lost in the shuffle. “What we need to do shouldn’t be communicate by an advert marketing campaign or a keynote,” Limp says, “however as a substitute communicate by the outcomes.”
The end result for Amazon is an enormous lead within the uncooked variety of gadgets that both assist Alexa straight or may be managed by Alexa by expertise. It has a significant lead within the house, too. Limp says, “Not less than because it pertains to house assistants — we are able to actually discuss cell assistants, [too] — I believe we’re by far the chief. Our knowledge would counsel we’re method out forward.”
However let’s discuss cell assistants. Google and Apple can embrace their very own assistants on board because the default on their telephones, main to put in bases that might quantity within the billions as a substitute of the 100 million Alexa gadgets Amazon has. That actually may very well be a major problem for Amazon: if it seems that buyers want to only use one assistant, in the long run, that edge Alexa out of individuals’s lives.
Limp’s response is that he’s not truly fascinated by competing straight with “assistants” as a class. He centered on an even bigger objective. The platform struggle isn’t for a voice interface to set timers and switch in your lights. It’s for, as Walt Mossberg has called it, “ambient computing.”
“We have now a really singular deal with this concept of an ambient consumer interface and the place that makes probably the most sense,” Limp says. That’s why Amazon began with the house and why it’s headed to automobiles subsequent. In September, it introduced a prototype-looking product that lets you use Alexa in your car, and Limp says that almost 1 million individuals have signed as much as get an invitation to buy one.
As for telephones, Limp argues “cellphone shouldn’t be an ambient gadget. It’s meant as a private gadget.” Simply at a practical stage, your cellphone spends a ton of time sitting in your pocket. It’s not ambient; it’s one thing you straight work together with.
In fact, Amazon has to say this: it’s locked out of being allowed to be the default assistant on the iPhone, and convincing Android customers to modify their default assistant to one thing apart from Google is extremely troublesome. (Simply ask Samsung how Bixby is doing.) As an alternative, Amazon is targeted on the locations the place it may make sense to talk out loud right into a room: your own home, your automobile, and, more and more, the office. Alexa can work with Polycom speakerphones to arrange convention calls, for instance.
Amazon’s technique for Alexa in 2019 is a continuation of what it’s been doing all alongside: construct the inspiration for an ambient computing platform. That sounds heady, however the items required to construct that basis are remarkably sensible and — as with every software program basis — nerdy.
Limp needs to get as many gadgets to make use of Alexa as attainable, and he needs these gadgets to do as a lot as attainable. “I believe sometime, third-party Alexa-enabled endpoints could also be vastly bigger than what we produce ourselves,” he says. So his workforce’s focus is on constructing out instruments and APIs for third-party builders alongside making Echo merchandise.
Limp thinks that he can use the identical playbook that Amazon used to show Amazon Net Companies (AWS) into the default internet providers platform that one million software program startups use. “You want breadth and depth. … The way in which to get the breadth is to construct instruments which are self-service, which are free, which are simple to make use of, and which are broadly obtainable for builders.”
These instruments embrace issues just like the Alexa Connect Kit, a module that may make including Alexa to a gadget practically plug-and-play. They embrace APIs and SDKs that make it simple to combine software program merchandise into Alexa, which led to the surprise support for Apple Music on Echo.
“You may find yourself with one thing like AWS,” Limp says. “You didn’t must name anyone to construct a storage system primarily based on S3. You simply mainly put your bank card in, signed up for an account, and subsequent factor you knew, you would do puts and gets. … You need to be capable to come to our web site, join an account, and be capable to get the breadth of all of the issues that occur.”
Build up that basis additionally means transferring past the fundamentals of key phrases and expertise. “We began with an app store-like metaphor for expertise, not as a result of we predict that was proper, however as a result of that’s what we may do shortly,” Limp says. Alexa must change into extra conversational, make expertise extra discoverable, and customarily simply change into much less awkward to make use of. That received’t occur shortly (and Google has some benefits there), but it surely’ll be an enormous focus going ahead.
Amazon intends to focus closely on enabling these companions to only make extra Alexa stuff in 2019, and likewise to push arduous on worldwide growth to drive these adoption numbers even greater.
Whether or not it is a platform struggle or not, one factor is obvious: greater numbers are higher.