Amazon has launched an ugly looking device called Echo Show that is effectively Alexa with a 7-inch screen attached to the front – and it seems to be more about addressing the shortcomings of voice interaction with machines than it is about launching a series of new and exciting Digital Life services.
The Echo Show form factor is disappointing, as even Baidu with no hardware experience managed to come up with a far more appealing looking product. Amazon has also upgraded the speakers to give a louder and richer sound profile, but I see this being about giving Alexa another medium with which to communicate with the user given the limitations of voice.
The problem is simply that Alexa (and all other digital assistants, for that matter) are far too stupid to be able to hold a meaningful conversation with a user. Google Assistant is currently the best but remains woefully short of what one would consider to be a useful assistant.
Digital assistants were designed to replace the human variety, but because their intelligence is so limited, they are unable to hold a coherent conversation with the user. Human assistants do not need to use screens to understand requests, relay information and carry out tasks, meaning that the perfect digital assistant should not, either.
Hence, I think that the Echo Show has been created to make up for the huge shortfall in Alexa’s cognitive ability.
This type of interaction is what RFM refers to as one-way voice where the user asks a question and the results are displayed on a screen. RFM research has found that the vast majority of all man-to-machine interactions are one-way voice, and with this device, Amazon makes these interactions easier.
Furthermore, for those that depend on advertising having a screen, Echo Show also helps to maintain the business model of lacing a Digital Life service such as search or social networking with advertising.
Consequently, I think that Google is likely to follow up with a similar product, which will take advantage of the fact that the necessary communication apps that the device will use are already installed and ready to use on all new GMS Android compliant devices.
In Alexa’s case, it looks like the user will have install another app on his phone in order to communicate with the Echo Show. The Echo Show will come with all of Alexa’s 12,000 skills, but these skills have been designed for a device with no screen – so I do not see the screen improving the already very poor user experience that these skills currently offer.
At $230 (or two for $350), the Echo Show is priced to sell, but I think that volumes will be small, given that the vast majority of Echo’s shipments are from the cheapest member of the family, the $50 Echo Dot. Hence, I do not see a sudden rush by developers to upgrade their existing skills or develop new ones to make use of the screen.
This is where Google Assistant has a huge advantage, as it has already been designed to run with a screen (smartphones), meaning that adapting to having a screen on the Google Home product should be much easier and much better. I still think that Google Home has the advantage here, as it has a much better assistant than Alexa, but its lack of developer support for the smart home is starting to be a real problem. Google really needs to pull its finger out and show developers love, especially as Microsoft looks set launch something similar to Echo Show but using Cortana.
I continue to struggle with Amazon’s share price, whose valuation I think demands that investors pay for profits that never seem to materialize.