Echo: The Right Product, Five Years Too Early…I Mean Late…I Mean Early

Hello? Hello? Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?

It can’t be easy being Jeff Bezos. Yes I know it’s difficult to sympathize with the CEO of Amazon.com, directly or indirectly employing 100,000 people, and billions of dollars in revenues, while ranking as one of the world’s most popular online retail destinations. But in today’s consumer electronic driven society, the need to guarantee perfection through the launch of CE products can undermine an entire company’s product strategy. While Amazon’s Fire Line of tablets provided much more compelling competition to the iPad than the MS Surface, the Fire Phone was an abysmal failure. As hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into research and development, Amazon the hardware brand struggles to gain not only relevance, but recognition as a consistent, serious competitor to Apple and Google.

Take the recent introduction of Amazon Echo. Leveraging natural language processing in a similar fashion to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now, Echo takes the personal assistant out of the phone and into a cylindrical device for the home. Using voice recognition, there is no button to push, no hands to wave, just a simple acknowledgement of it with the waking word “Alexa”.

Alexa is Bluetooth enabled can answer a number of questions and commands:

  • News, Weather and Information
  • Music
  • Alarms, Timers and Lists
  • Questions & Answers via Wikipedia
  • Other updates via the cloud

Launched last week, Echo’s value proposition fell kind of…flat. In comparison to Apple’s organic, live events where design takes the forefront and a spectacle is created through the adoration of their fanatics (I’m one of them), Amazon non-nonchalantly used Amazon.com to surprise the world with a poorly received product video for a service/device nobody has asked for…yet.

On the surface, it seems Amazon rolls products out in what Dustin Curtis accurately describes as a (pun intended) echo chamber:

With Amazon.com, it can heavily and successfully promote and sell its products, giving it false indicators of success. It’s an echo chamber. They make a product, they market the product on Amazon.com, they sell the product to Amazon.com customers, they get a false sense of success, the customer puts the product in a drawer and never uses it, and then Amazon moves on to the next product.”

But in the case of the Echo, did Amazon really miss the boat?

Short answer is yes. Absolutely did. They invented a product nobody asked for that solved absolutely nothing one couldn’t through their smart device. The question becomes, when did they begin the product cycle and why did they make it?

I’m  no Amazon insider, but while a few ideas popped into my head, I kept coming back to the Internet of Things. It’s nice that Echo can dictate shopping lists, but wouldn’t it be nicer if Echo connected with your smart fridge to determine what ingredients you may be missing? And wouldn’t it be nicer if Echo synced your recipe you’re making with not only your lack of ingredients based on a scan of what’s in your refrigerator, but with Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery?

What about when listening to the latest and greatest album from your favorite musical artist? Echo recognizes frequency of play and uses the cloud to determine when that artist will be performing in your area. Using the cloud, it can fulfill tickets digitally to your smart device or laptop/pc.

I’ll go one fictional scenario further. What if Echo was incorporated into your vehicle like Ford SYNC, Chevy MyLink and Chrysler’s UConnect are today. Echo could geolocate your whereabouts, determine your proximity to your home and preheat your oven, turn on your lights, set your temperature and welcome with your favorite song.

Whether you sit on the fence of this being utopian or dystopian depending on your appetite for technology, the future could be brighter as long as Amazon is committed to an agile plan towards perfecting their product and understanding what consumers want out of the technology they build. While they can be mocked for selling products in a petri dish of customers who never wander farther than their patented 1-click service Amazon provides, Amazon could truly create the connected tissue of the web. As long as they stay committed and break out of the echo chamber.

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