Is Amazon Alexa a success?

Amazon likes to boast that there are “more than 900,000 registered Alexa developers who have built over 130,000 Alexa skills,” but it’s still the case that it’s virtually impossible to actually use more than a small handful of those skills. Hence, it’s not surprising that Priya Anand, after reviewing internal Amazon documents that detail slowing growth in Alexa devices, concluded that Alexa’s biggest problem is “people simply don’t find Alexa that useful.“

This is both true and false. Many of us have discovered great utility in Alexa, albeit in small, discrete functions. As one former Microsoft executive suggests, the secret to Alexa’s future success may well be to double down on creating rabidly loyal fans of these smaller functions, rather than trying to overawe us with 129,995 Alexa skills we’ll never discover or use.

You had one job…

For years our Amazon Echo has occupied a corner of our kitchen counter, our digital genie ever vigilant to our spoken command. Those commands, however, are very limited. “Alexa, set a pie timer for 40 minutes.” “Alexa, play ‘Girl from the North’ by Muzz.” “No, Alexa, I said PLAY THE SONG ‘GIRL FROM THE NORTH’ BY THE BAND MUZZ!” And so on. Very basic. We’re in the kitchen, we’re cooking, we need timers and sometimes music (or Audible) to accompany us. That’s 98% of our Alexa usage.

Chances are good that you’re the same. As analyst Benedict Evans muses, “Alexa has turned out to be a voice-activated clock radio with low retention.” How low? According to the internal Amazon documents, there have been years when 15% to 25% of new buyers were no longer actively using their Alexa device by the second week. Ouch.

For those who have figured out some discrete, repeatable task, Alexa is worth its minimal cost. As one commentator on Evans’ tweet notes, “I have numerous smart home devices: most lights in my house, fans, front door lock, garage opener, thermostats, many plugs, cameras, etc. We use Alexa to work with all these devices on [an] hourly basis. But without all that, I would have quit using it after two weeks.”

This proves another of Evans’ points: “The underlying fallacy was that people thought they were somehow seeing general AI and didn’t realize that a ‘voice assistant’ is just a voice-activated phone tree.” So, did Amazon oversell the possibilities of Alexa? Definitely maybe.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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