Q: Alexa, what is the meaning of life?
A: Depends on the life in question. 42 is a good approximation.
…And 42 is a great answer if you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
There is a race amongst GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) to conquer the virtual assistant market. Still early days and at the moment it is all about generating interest to create future demand. Virtual assistants can become ubiquitous platforms soon – think home automation – hence positioning and locking-consumers-in early is paramount for GAFA today.
At the moment, the Amazon Echo grabs most of the headlines and Google Home is gaining traction in the ‘new housemate’ category. Apple just announced the new HomePod which will be available at the end of the year at a premium price… no surprises there. The fourth contender is Microsoft’s Cortana who at the moment is still in the ‘clouds’ and hasn’t found a ‘material’ body to live in… yet.
Advertising, monetising, this is not clear yet.
Let’s start with Apple, they normally provide services at no extra cost for the user. You buy their premium products and you get a lot of services for ‘free’ eg: Mac OS upgrades, Garage Band, Pages, etc. The services are even advertising-free which keeps the clean and simple user experience that everybody loves. The money is made with the premium hardware and a growing number of paid services such as iCloud, Apple Music, etc. There’s no reason to believe that ads will be screamed at you by Siri, and that’s very Applesque.
Amazon, against many odds, got a head start in this race and there are some obvious use cases on how Alexa could become a very profitable Amazon employee. You ask her questions, request music, set up a timer and… order stuff! Amazon knows a lot about your buying habits and from an advertising perspective, this is where the money is. Google, Facebook and Amazon are, in my modest opinion, the only Serious players in the AdTech space right now.
For Google is not that clear yet, nobody wants to ask a question to a personal assistant and get an audio ad in return. That would be awful. We expect much more from Google, they changed the advertising game 15 years ago by inventing the best advertising model ever known to mankind. They have become the largest advertising player in the world and for this, we can only expect (and demand) the best of the executions every time. My guess is that there will be no ads coming from this particular device and all the queries will help Google to know you better and serve you more relevant ads in other properties eg: watching a Youtube video, navigating webpages connected to AdSense, etc.
Now, What about the real use cases?
As per today, the devices are fun in the office or during a house party, they are the new toys! They can even talk to each other – the example below is quite funny.
Personally, I find it hard to justify their presence in a home environment although I could be biased:
1 – I am curious, I am savvy and when I ask questions I like to get to the end of the matter. If I ask a virtual assistant about how blockchain works or who directed that film, I will get a short answer that will leave me hungry for more. In fact, after so many years typing questions on my keyboard, you start diversifying your sources for answers ie: Wikipedia for general knowledge, IMDB for films, Glassdoor for company reviews, Quora, Tripadvisor etc, etc.
2 – I’m living on my own which means I don’t really get to talk much around the house – the contrary would be an issue. Here some exceptions to the rule:
- FaceTime with ‘la mama’ or a phone call from work. Every other form of communication with the outside world is dealt with via instant messaging. Phone calls are a thing of the past and I find them very intrusive
- A delivery arrives
- Stepping on a Lego
I have no interest in using voice commands around the house. I don’t really use Siri and I find it peaceful but virtual assistants will evolve and Machine Learning & AI will be with us in many of our daily routines. Big investments have been happening in the last few years and they are one of the main bets in technology right now.
If you are curious and want to chat with a Bot you can try Cleverbot. It’s fun!
Q: Alexa, how do I finish this blogpost?