Amazon is trying to win the artificial intelligence AI software war with hardware by blanketing the market with home assistants.
Last month, online retail giant Amazon surprised the market by introducing six new hardware products. This would raise eyebrows even it was a traditionally a hardware manufacturer. Coming from Amazon — best known for retail and, now, media content — it’s extraordinary.
Amazon’s portfolio now includes a revamped Echo smart speaker, the Echo Plus, the Echo Spot — designed to replace a personal alarm clock, the Echo Connect, Echo Buttons for gaming, and a new Fire TV stick.
This is all part of Amazon’s ambition to consolidate its lead in home personal assistants, together with its Alexa software, before others can overtake it.
The timing makes sense, however. Beyond the mini Dot, the original Amazon Echo hasn’t seen a major update since it was first introduced back in 2014.
Here we see Amazon trying out a few new use cases, for a broader target market. Of course, the real smarts is in the software – in this case, including the addition of the so-called Alexa Routines.
What is Alexa Routines and why could it be a game changer?
Amazon Routines will allow users to trigger a number of associated commands at once.
For instance, a user could get Alexa to turn off the lights and the TV, and also lock the front door with a single command like “Alexa, good night”. With Routines, Alexa will understand what you say and what you meant to say, but left out.
Apple’s HomeKit already has some basic routine-like experiences built in with Siri, but they are limited and largely unrecognised by users.
Although Amazon Routines hasn’t received a whole lot of media attention, it could mark an important milestone for AI by allowing it to understand multiple commands at once.
Most personal assistants can only handle one command at a time, and they’re bad at picking up on inferences and follow-on thoughts. Simply put, they don’t think like we do.
Other tech companies are developing AI and their home assistants in similar ways and are hot on Amazon’s heels.
Search giant Google recently launched of a cheaper version of Google Home, Google Max premium speakers, a premium-priced Pixel notebook, ear-buds that translate languages in real time, and – arguably the most interesting product of the lot – Google Clip, a device which can best be described as an intelligent camera.
Apple will meanwhile begin selling its own HomePod in December, just in time for Christmas.