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Forget ‘Googling It.’ Amazon Wants You to ‘Alexa It.’

With its aggressive new strategy of putting Alexa everywhere, Amazon aims to build an operating system for the physical world

Amazon senior VP Dave Limp demonstrates a new Alexa feature. The text “Alexa, why did you do that?” is showcased behind him.
Dave Limp, a senior vice president at Amazon, demonstrates a new Alexa feature. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance/Getty

At its Seattle event last week, Amazon unveiled more than just an ambush of Echo devices. It also unveiled a new strategy.

While the company has been aggressively pushing Alexa into the homes of its customers for years in a bid to make it the smart assistant of choice, it now wants to put Alexa everywhere.

This is a departure from Amazon’s first Echo strategy, which was to make the devices so cheap that they were easy to buy, even if they weren’t all that appealing. Dave Limp, a senior vice president at Amazon, once told CNBC, “We try to price our products effectively at about what they cost to make.” For the past five years, Amazon has essentially given away Echo devices for free.

Now Amazon is flooding the market with such an array of Echo-enabled devices, across every possible category, that it will eventually be almost difficult to buy anything from Amazon without also acquiring some sort of Alexa capabilities.

The new products that Amazon unveiled at the Seattle event include:

  • Echo Dot with Clock
  • Echo Studio
  • Echo Buds (Alexa headphones)
  • Echo Flex (an Alexa smart plug)
  • New Echo speakers
  • Echo Show 8
  • Echo Frame (a pair of Alexa glasses)
  • Echo Loop (an Alexa ring)
  • Alexa built into a range of cars
  • A huge array of Alexa-enabled devices, including a microwave, alarm system, modular switches, and many more.

Amazon wants Alexa in your appliances, on your body, in your phone, and in your car. In the company’s vision for the future, Alexa will never be more than an arm’s reach away. Amazon’s aspirations don’t stop at its own hardware, either. It has invested heavily in the wider Alexa-connected ecosystem, throwing $60 million at smart thermostat company Ecobee and spending $1 billion acquiring Ring, which builds a popular — and controversial — home security doorbell.

Amazon isn’t afraid of throwing every idea at the wall, putting them into the market, and allowing customers to decide which ones succeed. In fact, Amazon expects many of these ideas to fail in its pursuit of the one or two that stick.

Amazon wants Alexa to be your first thought when you have a question, desire, or command, regardless of where you are.

This is a risky, expensive strategy, but it’s not altogether surprising: Unlike Microsoft, Apple, and Google, which all own respective chunks of people’s attention with their operating systems, from Windows and macOS to Android and iOS, Amazon doesn’t control how it gets in front of people.

That means to succeed, Amazon must use other companies’ platforms to reach potential customers — building apps for iOS and Android, convincing customers to use Amazon’s assistant instead of the preinstalled Google or Apple versions.

Amazon has tried to establish itself as a mobile player in the past, launching its own smartphones in 2014. But the company quietly shelved that project as it became clear it would be too difficult to disrupt Apple and Google’s market duopoly.

Alexa everywhere is the company’s attempt at building an operating system of its own — one for the real world — in which you’re much more likely to ask Amazon a question before you ask Google or any other company.

Amazon wants Alexa to be the first thing you think of when you have a question, desire, or command, regardless of where you are. It’s an end run around the decade-old, established ecosystems we use every day and a rare opportunity to capture people’s all-day attention.

Alexa presents a rare threat for Google, because it would almost entirely circumvent its 21-year-old search engine if it were to dominate the market. The voice assistant space is still relatively new, and Amazon’s efforts in the market appear to be working: It’s estimated that more than 70% of U.S. households that use a voice assistant have an Alexa device.

Saying “Alexa,” if Amazon has its way, will become the new “Google it.”

Unlike Google, which is motivated to sell advertising to its users, Amazon has different aspirations for Alexa: selling you things. Voice is intimate, and interacting with an assistant provides a lot of information about your state of mind. The company can already detect if you’re frustrated, but it can almost certainly understand other states of mind as well. It’s not so crazy to imagine that Alexa could detect that you’re tired and then use that to offer discounts on coffee if you order right now.

In the future, if Alexa is embedded in everything from clocks to microwaves, it will be increasingly difficult to avoid the assistant eventually creeping into your home—and that’s the plan: making Amazon indispensable.

Saying “Alexa,” if Amazon has its way, will become the new “Google it.” It’ll become a core part of day-to-day life, bypassing the gatekeepers like Google and Apple and providing Amazon a direct conduit to your wallet.

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. UX Manager @ Shopify.

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