Alexa, why are there multiple Amazon delivery trucks lined up in my driveway?

The clear “winner” at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is crowned and her name is “Alexa“!

Apple has been replaced as the cool company everyone wants to be associated with. In fact, even though Apple has not attended CES for years, Apple captivated the hearts and minds of many attendee companies over the years as they showed how their tech innovations worked with Apple. No more. This year it was Alexa everywhere.

Voice interfaces are everywhere with Google, Cortana, Siri, Alexa, Voicebox, Samsung and many others. So why say “Alexa was the Belle of the Ball”? Because she is the one everyone wants to dance with.

Years ago our company, PassAlong Networks, started working with Voicebox. The team at Voicebox are the voice technology innovators now behind Toyota, Lexus and much of Samsung’s voice offerings, to name a few. They developed rich context sensitive experiences where we could ask for music and other information the way we naturally speak, versus learning rigid hierarchies of voice command menus. We saw the future and its interface was our voice. Fast forward over 10 years and this is finally becoming mainstream.

Amazon may not seem threatening to other tech companies when it comes to integrating a voice interface. Yet to Walmart and other retailers, Alexa should be seen for what she is… a great Trojan Horse that has penetrated the outer walls to take a comfortable place in the home.

Alexa brings convenience beyond adding things to your task list and getting the weather forecast. She is always ready. You can order simply by making a verbal request to Alexa. In fact, one of the new concerns is that kids are learning how to place voice orders on Alexa. Surprise! A $170 dollhouse and a satchel of gourmet cookies just arrived for you! What is even more amusing about this story… as news outlets reported it, more and more Alexa devices woke up when they heard their name spoken and they also placed dollhouse orders.

Imagine when subtle cues can be embedded in TV shows and ads… “Alexa, order the new Game of Thrones complete video series.” You get the idea. While I doubt many would try such a stunt, some of these verbal cues could be helpful, bringing value-added information to accompany something you are watching. It won’t be long until you are in a “weak” moment and your team has just won the championship and the TV prompts, “Alexa, confirm an order for the championship hat and jersey.” And all you have to say is “Okay!”

Walmart and other retailers can no longer match the convenience that a fully integrated voice assistant can offer. As Alexa expands her reach and talks to our appliances and learns what additional household supplies and groceries are needed, she will become a deeply integrated member of the household. Other voice platforms need to make it easy to get products from other retailers to keep value in their ecosystem. Walled gardens won’t work this time (ahem, Apple.)

Round One of voice automation was primarily for phones, built-in systems for our cars, and computer add-ons for voice command and dictation. The systems were predominantly standalone in that they did not talk to other devices.

Round Two is going to Alexa. With Alexa available for $40 over the holidays, general consumers started buying. Voice assistants are no longer just for the “bleeding edge” geeks among us. And Alexa is learning how to play well with others. She is a quick study as this year’s CES proved.

Alexa is integrating capabilities across devices and increasingly blurring the lines between our physical and digital world. Alexa has been in the market for over a year and is now lapping her competitors in the race. No other system works as well with as many smart home devices and other experiences. Samsung and others have offerings. Apple let developers have access to Siri in 2016. Microsoft made major moves in December, opening up Cortana along with Azure cloud capabilities for all developers to leverage voice technology in their own applications. It’s time for all companies and their developers to expand their thinking, offerings and integration and do so quickly!

2017 will be a year of incredible innovation in voice interfaces and integration as we increasingly rely on hands-free communication to get things done. Everything we interact with will increasingly have a voice interface option. The question is, what will we call our able assistant? Today her name is Alexa. Which name do you think will capture our hearts, minds and wallets over the long-term?

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