She arrived about six weeks ago. Just as I was hesitant to sign up for Facebook seven years ago due to the sacrifice of privacy, I felt the same way about Amazon’s Echo—named Alexa. Wouldn’t she always be listening? What would Amazon learn about my lifestyle? Would she send me flowers after my husband and I fight? Would she help us remind my daughter to finally to bring her violin to school?
Still, she is gradually changing the way we live our lives.
What I can do is add milk to my shopping list while I’m pouring the last glass. My family can add to the list, too, when they find they are in need of something (or my children will add things to the list to be funny). She can tell us the weather as we sit at the breakfast table eating. She helps my kids with their homework (creepy right?). She also acts a bit human. She says, “Hmm, I’m not sure what you said.” I love that. You can even play choose-your-adventure games with her.
What makes Alexa different than Siri and other voice control is that she is always there waiting—and she’s isn’t hiding in my pocket or in my purse. I don’t need to push and hold a button, and I don’t need to look where I put her down. She just hangs out there in my kitchen with her omnidirectional mic waiting to help. When you say her name, a blue light illuminates and “points” to where you are in the room. I’ll call her from across the house, and she usually picks up my command.
My fear is this fact (no programming) is what our industry is going to battle, and we will lose. Just as our industry fought the rise of MP3 players, due to degradation of audio quality, they will fight their inherent need to add 23 buttons to a touchscreen. Yes, I know you all have a story of a client who really wanted 23 buttons, but it is not what the mass consumer desires. They crave simplicity, and like Facebook proved, they are willing to sacrifice a piece of their privacy to get there.
Most new cars on the road today already have voice control. The only difference is that you have to press a button before you ask a question. Luckily (hopefully) your hands are already in a location ready to press said button. Voice control has already been at the command of your brain, and you didn’t even realize it, did you?
Think of the next generation: my kids are now eight and nine years old and wake up and say, “Alexa, good morning.” And wait for her tidbit of the day (it is national poetry month, by the way, and last week was Lady Gaga’s birthday—she was “born this way”). They use her to set timers and ask her how to spell difficult words. She makes us laugh—she will even fart if you ask her. It makes the kids laugh every time.
Children of today will not grow up with the desire to press multiple buttons; they’re going to want to tell the house what they need. “House, turn the lights up” and the house will know the time of day and will dim them appropriately. The TV will know it is Monday night—and that we always watch the airing of the newest episode of Billions—so it will be waiting for us when we turn on the TV. Why the need to step through multiple screens or apps? This is the future (or, at least, the one I envision).
Does that mean we are a dying breed? No. It means that once again, we have to make a paradigm shift in our business to be problem solvers and not product pushers. Hey, I don’t have all the answers, but I am preparing for the future. TVs still need to be hung on the wall, wireless HDMI still isn’t a perfect science, and Wi-Fi is definitely going to need to be amped up to work within the entire house and the yard.
Alexa and voice control, as it stands today, will not turn your business world upside down, but the technology is as important as the first iPod and iPhone release. It is the beginning of a fundamental shift in the way we interact with our homes and surroundings.
What do you think? Tell me in the comment section below.