Say Hello To... Pretty Much Everything. Voice Platforms Are Here For Your Home, TV, Cars, Board Games & More

The Voice Revolution Is Here!

🗣 The #VoiceTech revolution is underway. Amazon, Google and Apple are battling for who gets to come into our living rooms and run our increasingly smart homes.

In just a few years, AI-powered voice platforms have gone from the realm of Hollywood blockbusters (like Tony Stark’s Jarvis) to a jaw-dropping reality in millions of homes around the world with Alexa, Google and Siri. Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google’s Home Mini topped shopping wish lists in 2017. The new #VoiceTech frontier is here and it’s promising exciting new possibilities for consumers, developers and entrepreneurs — and we’re just getting started.

Let’s talk about the implications.

How did we get here?

In late 2016, Amazon announced the Echo Dot (2nd generation) — the improved voice recognition, low price point and my curiosity was enough to get me to preorder it.

Little did I know that I would end up ordering 3 more on launch week. When it arrived, the demand in our family outstripped the supply of 1 Echo Dot.

Alexa quickly won over hearts in our family.

My parents loved it. Once they realized that they could play Pandora radio stations and Hindu prayers on it — they were hooked. They told me to get another one for myself, because they were going to take this to Nepal with them.

My sister and nephews loved it too! They were overjoyed with being able control the smart lights in their home with their voice. I was reminded of that moment when I saw this tweet recently:

Now in 2018, Amazon has positioned the Echo not just a smart home controller or as a digital assistant — but really as a communications hub for the whole home.

Amazon’s Alexa is an open platform and lets anyone not just develop skills for the Echo devices, but integrate Echo into their hardware too.

Amazon enjoyed e-commerce dominance over the past two decades with their one-click shopping patent, much to the dismay of Best Buy and other retails. Amazon has out done itself with zero-click purchases now. Conversation commerce is here. Now you and I can build skills on Amazon that integrate with Amazon Pay. The most frictionless shopping experience imaginable.

If you enable the 1–800-FLOWERS skill to your Echo speaker, you will get to experience one of the first skills that integrates with Amazon Pay. You’ll be able to send anyone flowers without having to take out your credit card. When combined with rich data sets and artificial intelligence, platforms like Amazon’s Alexa can serve as the magical interface that lets any brand give a personalized and customized shopping experience to their customers. If done right, it will lead to happier users, more revenue and a better experience for all.

Player 2 Has Entered The Game

Amazon’s Echo Dot

Amazon’s runaway success with the Echo Dot since the 2016 Holiday Season compelled Google, Apple and others to accelerate their VoiceTech plans and rush in with products of their own. Alexa has a dominant first-mover advantage with Google scrambling to close the gap — while Apple has thus far disappointed with the HomePod.

Why though? I believe that calling this trend a VoiceTech revolution isn’t hyperbole. Professor Scott Galloway has called Alexa “the iPhone of the next decade.”

If we were to gauge this on a scale of the 2007 iPhone to new iPhone X, Amazon’s Echo Dot feels very iPhone 4. I remember the iPhone 4 was remarkable — it just worked. The camera, battery life, performance and app store options were all decent. That’s how an Echo Dot experience feels today. And similar to the Apple app store, the Alexa ecosystem is booming. We’re going from a “there’s an app for that” to a “there’s a skill for that” world. There are already more than 20,000 skills for Alexa — and that’s increasing exponentially.

Today you, I and anyone else can build a skill using Alexa Skills Kit. There are tutorials freely available online, thriving conversations on reddit, companies that build voice skills for brands, startup incubators/accelerators with a VoiceTech emphasis, and thousands of relevant repos on GitHub.

How many skills are there for Amazon’s Alexa? // Source: VoiceAI

What is the internet anyway?

I miss the early days. You’d switch your computer on, open up Netscape Navigator and browse the web. That was it. That was the internet. When Steve Jobs unveiled iPhone in 2007, it changed everything. Our underlying assumptions about what was possible were thrown out the window. I remember going to the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN and couldn’t believe that a touch screen phone was reality already. What year is it? It was a magical moment. Over the next decade, the internet embraced and adjusted to the mobile world — including responsive websites and mobile apps on iOS and Android. Hundreds of millions of people around the world were connecting to the internet not via a desktop or laptop, but with a smartphone. We were in a Mobile First world.

Today the answer to “what is the internet anyway?” is shifting once more. It’s not just websites and smart phones anymore.

Websites | Mobile Apps | Chatbots | Voice | VR | AR | IOT | …

The possibilities and implications of emerging technologies (including voice) are profound — especially for tech companies and entrepreneurs. What got us here won’t get us there. As Peter Diamandis says “Uber yourself before you get Kodaked.

Let’s take an example: Wealthsimple.

Wealthsimple is a Canadian FinTech startup on a mission to make investing “low cost, easy and transparent.” They have more than $1.9 billion in assets under management from 65,000+ clients in Canada, USA and the UK — with their sights set much higher.

If I were at Wealthsimple, I’d start designing prototypes to test what a voice-interface to Wealthsimple on Alexa should look like. Because it’s fair to assume that everyone in USA, Canada and UK that have an Alexa device (Echo, Echo Dot, etc.) in their home have financial assets and are tech savvy. That overlaps well with Wealthsimple’s target market. There are a handful of finance “skills” on Alexa already, including TD Ameritrade and Bloomberg.

Echo commands to experiment:

  • “Alexa — Open Wealthsimple”
  • “Alexa — What’s my Flash Briefing”
  • “Alexa — Ask Wealthsimple about my investments”
  • “Alexa — Call Wealthsimple”
  • “Alexa — Tell Wealthsimple to call me tomorrow afternoon”
  • “Alexa — Ask Wealthsimple about RRSP contribution deadlines”

Personalized, Customized and Conversational Commerce

The optimal distribution channels to reach and engage any market must change to keep up with the target market’s evolving behavior. Where is our target market’s attention today and where is it headed tomorrow? Moving quickly to create and test “skills” on these new VoiceTech platforms can give a dominant first-mover advantage to Wealthsimple as these voice products land in more households every day.

Oakley — Voice Isn’t Just For Tech Companies

Voice is a effortless and seamless interface — it’s particularly effective when your hands are busy, say — while biking.

Oakley, the sunglasses company, has a real-time voice activated coaching system. It’s called Radar Pace — it creates a unique training program, tracks your performance and coaches you in the moment.

You can say: “OK Radar — what’s today’s workout?” or “OK Radar — how’s my pace” and the sunglasses with the built-in earpiece will respond to you.


Alexa Is Going Places — TV, Board Games, …

Amazon’s Alexa is an open platform and lets anyone not just develop skills for the Echo devices, but integrate Echo into their hardware too.

Amazon enjoyed e-commerce dominance over the past two decades with their one-click shopping patent — to the dismay of Best Buy and other retails - Amazon has out done itself with zero-click purchases now. Not just for themselves though — Amazon’s Alexa skills that you and I can build can be integrated with Amazon Pay.

TV

Most remote controls are poorly-designed, clunky and frustrating to use — that if they haven’t fallen into the chasm of the couch cushion. A Logitech study found that the average living room has 4 remotes. FOUR!? Fortunately — remotes are going the way of the Dodo. A combination of voice and smartphone is most the most likely interface to replace them completely.

New Samsung TVs already use their propriety technology to allow voice commands. It’s only a matter of time before other less tech savvy brands integrate Alexa into their TVs. Siblings will no longer have to fight over who gets the remote. It may get louder though with everyone competing to get the TV to play what they want.


Cars Are The New Living Rooms

I can not overstate the scale of this opportunity. The average commute in the United States is 26 minutes. The adoption of electric cars with Level 5 autonomy hardware built-in is increasing exponentially and it will be here before we know it.

If you add up all of those 26 minutes commutes — Americans spend 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or a collective 3.4 million years in their cars every single day. Wow.

Cars are going to be the new living rooms. A comfortable seat, large windows, and a giant screen (or two) — enabled by voice and touch. The opportunity is there for anyone to take a slice of the time people spend in their cars.

Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept Car Interior // Source: URL

An “App Store for Cars” is just around the corner — apps you can install in your car that have touch and/or voice interface. I’m sure working prototypes for these already exist in many companies.

Another advantage is that your coworker won’t be able to send those “Sorry. I’ll miss the 830am standup. I’m stuck in traffic on the Gardiner” emails. In these cars, you’ll be online and connected — as much as you are in your home or office.

Thanks to companies like Uber, Lyft, Ola, Didi and others, car ownership is quickly becoming optional for more and more people. Why own when you can reliably and cheaply hire on-demand? Every car company today is scrambling to adjust to this new reality. They’re transforming aggressively from a “we sell cars” company to a “we are a mobility provider” company. Ford recently acquired Autonomic and TransLoc to boost their mobility initiatives at Ford X. Interestingly, the cloud technology that Autonomic developed can be positioned to be used by any car manufacturer, mobility provider and city. It’s does for transportation what AWS does for cloud services.


Board Games

The possibilities to creatively integrate a voice-interface into anything are endless. Board games are an exciting example. The Alexa Fund, an Amazon and TechStars accelerator, invested in a company called Sensible Object.

“Sensible Object, is developing board games that integrate voice in creative ways. In its When In Rome game you fly around to different cities on the board and Alexa asks you trivia questions about that city when you get there. And the voice you hear asking the questions bears the accent of the people who live there.”
- FastCompany

Toasters? Why not?

What couldn’t integrate Voice assistants? Anything with a button. Anything with an input and an output. Most of these appliances (thermostat, locks, cameras, lights) are already voice-enabled if you connect them to your Echo Dot (or other smart speaker.)

Limited Only By Your Imagination

Another company funded by the Alexa Fund is Novel Effect. It has a skill that adds sound effects to a story that’s read aloud (by a human) from a book.

Imagine reading a book to your child and the Novel Effect skill on your Echo Dot adding special effects to your words. I could describe it, but you should watch the demo:

A great wind is blowing and that either gives you imagination or a headache.” — Catherine The Great

The voice revolution is here. Say hello to pretty much everything. Literally.