Amazon Fire TV Works with Alexa

It was only a matter of time before Amazon combined these products. The Metropolitan Project

announces the “New Amazon Fire TV with Alexa.” We learn:

Alexa through your Fire TV can do almost everything that Alexa in the Amazon Echo can do, and an exec leading a demo says that the goal is to eventually get absolute parity between the two.

Amazon believes the combination will entice users who really want the $179 Echo, but can only afford the $99 for Fire TV. The $80 difference? One can launch Echo with a voice command but must press a button on Fire TV’s remote to begin. Hmm, does that mean the less expensive device is not “always listening?” This could be considered a plus by security-conscious prospective users.

Cynthia Murrell, April 24, 2017

AI Eats Dominos Pizza

Food and apps go well together, but when artificial intelligence is added to the mix things skip the main course and go straight to the AI dessert.  The popular pizza chain Domino’s has added a NLP platform to their Domino’s Robotics Unit (DRU), allowing their customers to vocally order their pizza on the app.  ZDNet explains how the upgrade works in the article, “Domino’s Partners With Nuance For DRU Artificial Intelligence.”

Domino’s DRU equipped Nuance’s Nina, a program that speakers with customers in human-like conversation.  DRU will not only be able to help people order a pizza, but also carry a conversation on menus, ingredients, locations, and operating hours.  It does not stop there; DRU will also be compatible with the new smart speakers, Amazon Echo and Google Home-except Australia.  Australia does not have voice-activated devices.

Domino’s CEP Don Meji sees this as the start of the “Internet of Food”:

’In 2017, Domino’s is going from mobile first to AI first. That means that from this year onwards we will be developing nearly all of our platforms with an insight to engaging with AI and machine learning first as we adapt to all the different devices in society,’ Meij explained.

This is not the only advancement Domino’s has made.  Domino’s also has a drone delivery unit, people can order a pizza via Facebook Messenger, and Domino’s Anywhere allowing customers to order a pizza by dropping a pin on a map.

This is innovative thinking and will keep Domino’s a competitive fast food player, except in Australia.  Poor Australia and their lack of voice-activated machines and Domino’s Pizza.

Whitney Grace, April 10, 2017

A Testing Interface for Skills Development

A software ecosystem may be forming around Alexa—witness the community-built, a browser-based testing tool for budding Alexa Skills. The platform has integrated the Alexa Voice Service and uses 3D JavaScript animations to replicate the Alexa feel. The description notes: is intended to allow developers who are working with the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to test skills in development. … It is not a substitute for Alexa-enabled devices.

That is to say, the interface will neither stream music nor support far-field voice recognition. However, it does allow aspiring developers who have yet to acquire an Echo or Dot to test their code. See this article at Amazon Developer for more information. Hosting is iQuarius Media, a social-media marketing firm in Orlando, Florida.

Cynthia Murrell, April 5, 2017


Et Tu, Echo?

The International Business Times reports, “Amazon Says Alexa Protected by First Amendment, Will Not Hand Over Evidence in Murder Case.” Police insist Amazon produce recordings from an Echo speaker found streaming music at the scene of a 2013 drowning in Arkansas, hoping they will demonstrate whether the death was an accident or a homicide. Writer Agamoni Ghosh summarizes Amazon’s position:

The company says the AI-based speaker is protected by the First Amendment and that both user’s commands and the device’s response come under protected speech.”

The Echo’s owner is a suspect in the case. Amazon has relinquished associated subscriber information and purchase history, but say prosecutors have not made a strong enough case for access to the recordings. What would make a case strong enough?

Cynthia Murrell, March 27, 2017

The Business of Smart Homes

Amazon with the help of consultants is helping people in select markets to make their existing homes smart. Apart from providing employment to the geeks, the move will also help Amazon upsell Alexa powered devices, smartly.

CEPro in the editorial Lessons from Amazon’s Smart Home Consultations says:

The advisors would analyze your home network, demonstrate a few products like Amazon Echo and Fire TV, fix things here-and-there inside the home, and follow up with recommendations for your smart home.

The author, however, is disappointed that the consultants did not carry any devices to sell even when she was ready to buy them right away. Also, the training seemed to be inadequate as the consultants had no inkling about other home automation products in the market. Amazon might be leaving money on the table if it’s not selling Alexa powered devices or for that matter any smart devices through its consultants.

Since Amazon is just starting on this kind of service, it will soon catch-up to the lost opportunities as it has done in other areas of the business.

Vishal Ingole, March 24, 2017

Want to Test Drive Alexa? Reverb is the Answer

Reviews point out that Alexa is more efficient than Apple’s Siri. However, iOS and Mac users who want to test drive Alexa have to purchase Echo or Dot. Reverb however can let you try out Alexa without purchasing any of these devices.

According to Apple Insider, in an article titled Updated Reverb App Tries to Bring Alexa to the IPhone and Mac, the author says:

The prevailing wisdom is that Alexa is superior to Siri —but your mileage may vary and so might your need for privacy. But, if you wait to hear about Amazon’s sales figures you’re going to wait a long time.

Alexa in Reverb has extremely limited capabilities. Even to wake-up Alexa, the mic button needs to be activated and a command can be given only then. Reverb also cannot identify your precise location, thus it will keep on telling you whether reports of some other city. And lastly, you cannot order anything over Alexa. As stated in the article, Reverb can let you get the taste of Alexa in a very limited way. To truly explore the full potential, you need a proper Alexa powered device.

Vishal Ingole, March 17, 2017

Keeping Alexa Users Happy

Although Amazon claims that Alexa has over 10,000 skills that users can utilize, reports suggest that only 3% skills are regularly used by its users. This calls for better understanding of user behavior so that more users can start utilizing the AI powered personal assistant to its full capabilities.

VentureBeat in an article titled 5 Ways Popular Alexa Skills Keep Users Coming Back says:

According to the 2017 Voice Report, only three percent of all Alexa skills and Google Assistant conversation actions see usage by return visitors a week after the service has been activated.

Alexa and other AI assistants are at the same juncture where Internet based sellers were in mid-90s. Echo, Dot and other Alexa powered devices are a novelty right now. Users mostly are making the purchases for curiosity sake. Once the curiosity is satisfied, the smart speakers are relegated to the status of just-another-smart-but-not-so-useful device. In order to make it truly useful, app makers need to understand what can keep on bringing the users back again and again to their device. And since Alexa does not have a display, neither kitty videos or porn is going to help here.

Vishal Ingole, March 16, 2017

10,000 and Counting – The Useless Skills of Alexa

Amazon’s Alexa based Echo and Dot are selling like hot cakes. However, almost all its users use the smart speakers just for performing few tasks like playing music, seeking weather report or controlling smart home gadgets.

VentureBeat in an article titled Amazon Alexa Hits 10,000 Skills with a Nifty Musical Game says:

With 10,000 skills now, Alexa is becoming more versatile than ever. By adding games like Beat the Intro in addition to its essential functions as a digital assistant and voice-activated Amazon shortcut, it’s becoming entertaining as well as indispensable.

The sharp growth in Alexa based apps can be attributed to Amazon’s decision to allow third-party device makers to embed Alexa in them. However, unless customers use the device either for subscribing something or buying something, neither Amazon nor the device makers are going to make any significant profits. Thus, as of now most of the skills that Alexa has are useless and are seldom utilized. To maintain the momentum of explosive growth in the personal use AI space, both Amazon and third parties need to find ways to monetize it.

Vishal Ingole, March 14, 2017