The new voice in town: A week with Alexa

Posted by Guest On January 09, 2017

It’s been a little frustrating that in the two years since Amazon’s Echo was launched (Initially launched in the USA and then in the U.K. a year later in 2016), we don’t have a formal launch yet down under.

So after some nagging and nudging, my own Amazon Echo arrived in time for Christmas 2016, shipped from the U.K. It was greeted with whoops of delight, knowing that our music experience and a few other home activities were going to change significantly.

Amazon haven’t been able to create the unpack experiences that Apple deliver. That said, the set-up is pretty straight forward or at least it should have been. Alexa just plugs in and off you go (well you do need to download the app – which means that annoying hassle of switching Apple stores, as you can only download the app from the U.S. and U.K. app stores).

Once you get that done, you can start to make demands of your new personal servant. “Alexa play INXS from Spotify”. Oh, I did need to link my Spotify account to Alexa; but once you get going you can start to have fun. Alexa turns up the volume, forwards a track, stops the music and so on, all based on your voice instruction.

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Next up, you can start asking for the weather or traffic updates. Again, you have to be specific in telling Alexa that you are in Sydney Australia. Seems like she can’t figure out where she is. Again, it’s an adjustment within the app.

You can also ask Alexa for news updates once you have selected the media options from the app. The issue is that all the options are for U.S. and U.K. media, though the Guardian News briefing gives you an Aussie option.

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So far, it’s clear that a voice-activated home PA does make a load of sense, but it really is still in its infancy. When Alexa reads a story or the news she does it in an unchanging and monotone manner. You want to hear the voice of Mark Ferguson or David Wenham; you want a voice you trust and one with some personality. 

Alexa’s main strength right now is in playing music quickly and easily. She does tell jokes (badly) and reads children’s stories, including interactive ones. The knowledge and mindfulness apps are pretty lame in their current versions.

Today I read that the Jamie Oliver recipe function and the Seven Minute Workout app have been announced. Both are great use cases for Alexa – someone talking you through a recipe real-time and your very own audible fitness instructor.

One thing is for sure, in the race to become the home hub, Amazon isn’t going to roll over for Google Nest or for Apple. CES last week revealed a huge growth in voice-controlled personal assistants. Amazon just announced a voice controlled fridge. I have no doubt that the algorithms and associated AI will only get better. For me, there is still work to be done in refining the consumer use cases and perfecting the user experience.

The opportunity for publishers and brands is starting to take shape. Amazon needs to enable global and local publishers to push their content. Right now, there is some bias for Amazon products although Spotify is well integrated. TuneIn is the channel to get local radio stations.

I’d love to hear local news, sports and current affairs easily delivered whilst I munch on my morning Bircher before running to the office. I’d like entertainment, food and more sport in the evening. Alexa will be yet another platform for podcast delivery. What will be interesting are the different commercial opportunities that will also emerge from highly personalised advertising through to direct product sales. 

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So while she’s not perfect, I’m not ready to dump Alexa just yet. And Amazon, you need an Aussie Alexa quickly. He/She will fly. Otherwise someone else will step in with a collection of local publishers. With the sheer amount of global news around voice-based PAs, this is another channel that will see a lot of investment and development this year.

On-demand content will evolve further and create an increase in on-demand sales.