There are two ways to showcase Amazon's progress in smart home wars.
One involves carefully looking at the numbers. Amazon says Quick company Alexa now has more than 28,000 devices across 4,500 brands, compared to 20,000 devices across 3,500 brands in September. For example, the Google Assistant worked with 10,000 devices across 1000 brands as of October. Although there is some evidence that Google Home is gaining ground in terms of share of speaker sales, Amazon is still widening the gap in device support.
But the biggest story is how Amazon gets all that support in the first place. While Amazon and Google generally seek the same strategy – enticing customers to use affordable devices, and then persuading other companies to join the ecosystem – Amazon has always been a step forward in the tools it provides to hardware makers. Amazon says this year it has released more than 20 software developer updates, including some major changes in how its product-making devices work with Alexa.
"By any measure, selection is very high," says Daniel Rausch, vice president of the Amazon Smart House. "This is driven largely by the innovation we have launched for developers, and also by the simple smart home [technology] He has become a customer. "
Roche says Amazon hopes to expand its leadership in several ways. The first involves getting more types of hardware to work with Alexa. Until recently, the hook provided by Alexa to third-party developers, or to the API, only addressed specific types of devices, such as light bulbs, door locks, heat regulators, and motion sensors. Although the other types of devices still work with Alexa, users have had to enable additional skill and use certain wording to control these devices, and there was no way to automate these devices with Alexa Routines.
This month, Amazon released a new set of APIs that focus on "core element" concepts such as domain controllers and motion control and switching devices, rather than certain types of third-party products. This allows Moon, for example, to add better voice control to the Smart Shower, and Kenmore to add voice control to more pre-wash cycles.
"Basically, if a device connects to the Internet, Alexa can control it now," says Rausch.
At the same time, Amazon wants to help companies build these devices primarily through Alexa Connect. Instead of having to write firmware from scratch and develop their own control software, hardware makers can use one of Amazon's modules, which automatically connect to a range of Amazon services and include a code model for integration with Alexa. (The microwave that supports Alexa in Amazon, which uses Connect, is a reference design of this concept as much as a physical product).
The idea is not entirely new, with other companies such as Samsung's Artik providing integrated hardware platforms. However, the Connect Kit makes adding Alexa support easier, and Amazon covers ongoing cloud storage costs for an introductory fee.
"You do not have to be an expert in building cloud services or Internet security, or the complexities of building voice control or setup experience," says Roche. "You can build this simple microcontroller that comes with Alexa Connect Kit, get your connected device, and start integration, and it's done in months, not years."
Fix the setup problem
Amazon is also trying to make smart home appliances easier for the user. For example, Alexa can detect the Amazon smartphone to automatically connect so that users can start controlling it by sound or through the Alexa application.
"Our goal for the smart home in general is that it should be easier or easier to setup than the old analog device," says Roach.
This mentality also explains why Amazon has built an Echo Plus speaker, which doubles as an intelligent home center with ZigBee Radio, with many smart LEDs, motion sensors and plugs used by ZigBee because it requires less power than Wi-Fi and has longer Bluetooth, On these devices over a Wi-Fi network requires a separate device or bridge device. While Apple and Google have avoided setting up dedicated home automation centers, Amazon has been enthusiastic because it has seen an opportunity to streamline setup. By controlling the axle, Amazon effectively exits any intermediaries from the process.
"You can set up ZigBee with Echo Plus in one step," says Roche. "You're stepping in and saying," Discover my devices, and that's all it takes. "
Beyond basic acoustic controls
With many devices now in Alexa, Amazon's next step involves providing more than just a control panel to prevent objects from being turned on and off.
To this end, Amazon recently launched a feature called Alexa Guard, which can listen to broken glass or alarms from smoke detectors or carbon monoxide through Amazon Echo, and then send a notification to the user's phone. Alexa Gard connects even in the security systems of the circuit (now part of the Amazon) and ADT, which in turn can notify emergency services. Roche says Amazon has just "started scratching the surface" in this kind of smart surveillance.
Rausch also points to Alexa's recent "Hunches" feature, which can identify user patterns over time and offer an action when an error occurs. Alexa may display a door lock at the end of the day, for example, if this is what the user usually does. Roche says Alexa will learn new types of cams over time.
"You can imagine all sorts of things that would be wonderful to have a reminder around," he says. "If artificial intelligence can tell you when things are not the way you like it, it will be useful across many domains."
Despite everything Amazon has done to expand its leadership of smart homes, the company has yet to understand everything.
Privacy is still a concern. The more you use Alexa, the more data Amazon gets, both from initial sound recordings or from behavioral things such as music preferences and purchasing habits. You can tell Amazon not to use your audio recordings to develop products, and you can manually delete recordings, but there's no way to delete Amazon or hide your old data. For most people, Amazon will keep all the voice commands they've ever given them.
Rausch was surprised by the suggestion that Amazon might avoid keeping these comprehensive records.
"This is interesting, in terms of the point of discussion," he says. "We keep the data to improve the service, and take it seriously, but I will take these comments to the team.
In the same vein, the Amazon business model of Alexa remains ambiguous. to me the informationVoice shopping was not a major use case for Alexa, which could press the company to look for other ways to monetize. While Amazon says it does not use voice ads for targeted ads, CNBC reported in January that the company had entered product listings and tried targeting ads based on users' shopping behavior.
Consumers should generally understand how a producer intends to make money from them, but this is not something Amazon is willing to open up to. "We believe and operate here in Amazon and we know that if we solve difficult problems for customers, the rest will follow," says Rausch. "This really is really the way we run it."
The Amazon race for comfort can also close customers by nature outside competing ecosystems. Buying a smartphone in Amazon or using Echo Plus as an indicator means giving up Google or Siri. When third-party companies create products using the Connect Kit, Alexa integration is automated, but that does not extend the same privilege to other audio assistants. A future where customers are stuck with AI – even when privacy policies or business models become undesirable – does not seem ideal.
Rausch says this is not by design. Device makers using Connect Kit can still integrate with other voice assistants, even if more work is required, and they can use the "Free Fustration Free Setup" with Alexa even if they also support Google or Siri. He also points to the connection between Amazon Amazon and Microsoft Cortana as an example of how the company supports the idea of a world of artificial intelligence.
"Our vision is very similar to the Internet," he says. "I think the kinds of competition you see in mobile devices, for example." "We believe in allowing the spread of nuclear weapons, and even in the very near term, the interaction between the different AIS devices."
This is convenient to hear, but that does not mean that Amazon is slowing its ease of use efforts in the name of compatibility. The rest of the industry, as always, will have to catch up with them.