Technology is the ever-changing driving force in today’s modern world, and right now, smartphones are still at the forefront of it. That is slowly but surely changing however, as connected devices, smart home products, and the whole of the Internet of Things carves out a place for itself in the fast-paced technology industry. While the Internet of Things still has a ways to go before it reaches a world-changing status like smartphones, the concept of a collection of products and services that are all connected to the internet and open to control from mobile devices is already off to a great start, and Amazon is currently ruling this particular area of the market. Although Amazon is primarily an online merchant, they have been working on more than just selling goods and services from other companies for a while, offering a series of their own different products like the Kindle e-readers and Android-powered tablets, a smartphone, the Fire TV products, and now the family of Echo speakers which are all powered by the Alexa voice assistant software. Amazon’s tablets sell well as do their e-readers, but the Internet of Things and the smart home is where they’re really shining at the moment, and it’s all thanks to their Amazon Echo smart speaker, but more specifically the Alexa software inside that powers the system for the device.
Amazon may not create a smart home product for every single portion of the home, but they don’t need to, as every other company that makes connected devices is already doing it for them and has been since IoT has been a reality. All amazon has needed is the Echo Smart speaker and the Alexa software which they have made open source so that it works with multiple products. While the Echo speaker may not have done much during its initial months after launch, Amazon is constantly adding new functions to the Alexa software, and by extension, its family of speakers which has recently jumped from a single offering to a selection of three different products, which includes the Amazon Tap and the smaller Echo Dot.
While Amazon has been adding plenty of functionality on their own by developing compatibility into the speakers with other products like the Nest and Honeywell thermostats, they have also recently opened up the Alexa Voice Service to developers, which means more and deeper integration with software and applications as well as other products. It’s still too early to tell exactly how far this will really take Amazon’s IoT efforts, but it isn’t impossible to see that it’s going to push them forward quite a bit. With more developers capable of working with the Alexa software there will be more people on hand to innovate with ideas on how to make Amazon’s devices powered by the Alexa software more useful. This will be in addition to the already impressive collection of capabilities, like requesting a ride from Uber, ordering pizza from Dominos, getting bank account information from Capital One, and even getting fitness data from Fitbit wearables. Of course, Amazon has also made it possible for Alexa powered devices to narrate Kindle books if you have them, and all of this is possible with just the power of voice. Just by speaking to the Echo and other devices powered by Alexa, it’s possible for people to control a good portion of their homes whether it’s turning up the temperature or turning off the lights, and beyond that, Echo speakers can do a number of other things, like play streaming music or even let you play a Batman murder mystery game which Amazon integrated to help promote the upcoming Batman VS Superman movie.
Amazon’s Echo smart speaker is by no means the only connected home product that is capable of controlling multiple smart devices around the home. Consumers can for example, get their hands on something like Samsung’s SmartThings hub which controls a handful of different smart products like outlets, thermostats, and lights, all by way of an app, but SmartThings’ compatibility compared to the Echo and Alexa software is undoubtedly less, and opening an app and tapping a few buttons to control the in-home climate may be convenient but it’s not as convenient as simply telling Alexa to set the temperature to a certain degree. Aside from being well versed and open, the Echo line of products also have the selling power of Amazon behind them, giving them that much more capability to dominate the IoT market. Following the Super Bowl and the debut ad for the Amazon Echo that aired during the game, the speaker quickly became the number two best selling item on Amazon’s Bestseller list for a day, and it was already a high selling item prior to the public display.
Even Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak finds Amazon’s Echo to be “the next big platform for the near future,” stating that it gives a sense of “luxury and freedom.” While the Echo doesn’t directly interface with and control every electronic in your home like say, your TV and your PlayStation 4, if you have smart outlets and switches hooked up throughout every room with nearly all of your electronics plugged into them, the Echo becomes much more powerful, allowing you to control nearly any piece of electronic equipment or appliance you may have all by speaking to it. Thanks to Alexa voice software, the Echo has much more versatility than any other smart home product, and while it likely doesn’t work with literally everything, it’s fast expanding its library of compatible products, and it’s only going to get better now that developers are allowed to work with the Alexa Voice Service.
While the Echo seems to be a big success so far for Amazon, it doesn’t have to be the only success in the IoT market for the company. Amazon would of course do well to continue beefing up the Echo to do even more, and that’s certainly likely to happen both from Amazon as well as third-party developers, but another thing the Echo has done for Amazon is display how much of an opportunity they have to really dominate this market, not just for the short term, but for the long term as well. Although there’s no way of knowing if Amazon would choose to push further into the Internet of Things with different products beyond the Echo family, or what they would produce if they did, one easy and logical possibility would be to create their own smart hub. Although the Echo already works with various smart hubs that are on the market and which can be found on Amazon for purchase, Amazon could essentially cultivate and strengthen their own IoT ecosystem if they wanted to. The question is whether or not that would be a smart move. Should they choose to do so, they could risk alienating partners who manufacture products with which the Echo is already compatible, although, this could only be the case if Amazon chose to make similar smart home products and lock out the sales of their competition. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be the first time that Amazon did such a thing, as that’s exactly what happened with the Chromecast. Amazon could also choose to work with hardware partners on getting their Alexa Voice Service software integrated into other home products, like TV’s and other appliances and consumer electronics, creating a mesh network of devices that are all capable of working together through Alexa. Even if Amazon chose to stick with expanding the capabilities of the Echo family and the Alexa software that powers it, without putting out different smart home products or working to integrate Alexa into other consumer electronics, Amazon would still be in a good standing to continue ruling the area of the smart home as they do now.