Amazon has published a year-end blog post, showing off how far Alexa has come in 2018. There are a few tidbits hidden in that blog post that are worth talking about. For example, Alexa now has over 70,000 skills. It has also increased the number of compatible smart home devices to 28,000 which is nearly three times the amount that Google Assistant is compatible with. This is up nearly six-fold since the beginning of 2018. Showing just how far Alexa has come in one short year.
On top of having thousands of new skills now, Amazon is also touting that Alexa is available in more places than before 2018. Alexa is now available in other countries including Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico and New Zealand. It has also learned a few new languages. Amazon also brought Alexa to more devices, and also announced many new Echo devices. In fact, it sold “tens of millions” of Echo devices this year. Amazon says that Cyber Monday was the biggest holiday shopping weekend ever for Echo devices, and of course the third-generation Echo Dot was the big seller – considering it was just $25, that’s not a surprise. Alexa also came to new devices like the Fire TV Cube, Show Mode on the Fire HD 8 and 10 tablets, and much more.
In 2018, Alexa also learned Routines. Something that both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant added this year. It is essentially a way for you to give Alexa a single command and have her do a routine of commands. For instance, you can say “Alexa, good morning” and have her give you the time, the weather, the traffic conditions, the current news and even turn on the lights in your home, all with one command instead of many commands. According to Amazon, Routines is one of its customers favorite features, along with Announcements. Both of which debuted in 2018. Alexa also became more visual this year, after launching on the Fire TV Cube. This means that Alexa is visual on the entire Fire TV lineup, the Fire Tablets lineup as well as the Echo Show and Spot. So now you can actually see things you ask Alexa for, like the weather, or ask her to play a video from Prime Video and much more. Finally, Alexa also added some new entertainment this year, with the big name being Apple Music – and that actually happened just this week. So now, Apple Music is finally available on another smart speaker that is not the Homepod. That’s a big get for Amazon, considering Google doesn’t have Apple Music, and likely never will. This is because Apple sees Google as a competitor, but doesn’t see Amazon as one.
Background: Alexa has only been around for four years, and it’s impressive to see how much Alexa has grown in that short time. It debuted on the Echo ,which was originally an invite-only thing for Prime members. Many weren’t sure what to make of the Echo. It was a pretty large speaker, that was not portable and had to be plugged in all the time, and it cost around $179. That was a lot for a speaker back then. And then, all you could really do was ask Alexa some basic questions and have her play music for you. Fast-forward to 2018, and now she can do so much more. Alexa is the reason why Apple and Google ended up making smart speakers with personal assistants built-in. While Apple and Google’s assistants have been around longer, they were mostly built into your smartphone, and for the most part, weren’t all that helpful. But with the Echo, Amazon was able to build what is essentially a hub for your home. The Echo was able to control your smart home products, as well as answer questions, tell you the weather and much more. Which pushed Apple and Google to jump into the space as well.
Four years later, and Amazon still holds the largest market share in smart speakers and personal assistants. Though that might change in 2019, with Google quickly catching up. The smart speaker market is something that didn’t exist four years ago and was very niche about two years ago. But now it is growing like a weed, and that is partially thanks to Amazon and Google essentially giving away the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini with many purchases – especially during the holiday season. Which is getting many more people to pick up smart speakers and use them in their homes. Alexa and Google Assistant are still very different though. Alexa is better for controlling your smart home products, while Google Assistant is better for helping you and answering your questions.
Impact: Amazon also provided a sneak peak on what may happen with Alexa in the new year. Amazon is planning to continue to focus on making Alexa more natural, personal and useful. This is something that all tech companies are doing with their personal assistants. As you still need to give them a specific command to do what you want, though they are getting better at understanding natural language from humans. Amazon says that you will also see Alexa in more places and on more devices in 2019. It already appeared on many third-party products in 2018, including thermostats, third-party smart speakers, and much more. As always, Amazon is open to getting feedback from its users on Alexa, which is going to help Amazon make Alexa an even better personal assistant. Without this valuable feedback, Alexa won’t change and be more useful to the way you use Alexa.
In 2019, Amazon will likely be working on Alexa’s ability to answer questions. That is one area where Google Assistant is really thriving over Alexa. And that is because it does have the world’s most popular search engine – Google – behind it. The fact that you can’t continue conversations with Alexa yet, is a bit weird. Imagine asking Alexa about a person, then you ask a follow up question about when the person was born. Alexa won’t know what you mean, because you need to say the person’s name again. That is part of making Alexa’s interaction “more natural”.