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

Alexa Is Taking over the TV Experience Too

Amazon recently introduced Alexa enabled remote for Fire TV Stick that seamlessly controls the Fire TV Stick, something which is missing in other streaming devices like Chromcast, TV and Apple TV.

BoingBoing in a product review New Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote Is a Big Improvement over the Previous Model says:

Recently Amazon introduced the new Fire TV Stick, which is better in many ways than the old version. It has Alexa voice control built into the remote, so you can just ask it to play or search for a show.

Earliest adopters of Fire TV Stick complained of sluggish interface and difficult navigation. However, with Alexa powered remote, everything becomes a breeze. Issues like poor Wi-Fi reception or connectivity have been taken care of. With the onslaught of streaming services and compatible devices, cable content distribution is going to move online. Allowing AI like Alexa to control it will make the experience even more fulfilling. Alexa has taken a big leap ahead of its competitors for certain.

Vishal Ingole, March 15, 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

Line, In-Line for AI With Clova

Instant messaging app Line is all set to introduce AI based virtual assistant Clova to its 21 million users in Asia. Like other personal digital assistants, Clova, apart from holding intelligent conversations with the users, can also manage smart appliances, make purchases and do other tasks.

An article published on Tech In Asia and titled With a Siri Rival and a Holographic Girlfriend, Line Makes a Big AI Push, the author of the article says:

The big push into AI comes as Line is struggling in Facebook’s shadow. The app lost three million active users in the final three months of last year, stumbling from 220 to 217 million. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp each have a billion users.

Makers of Line are now betting on AI to supplement their revenue streams. Apart from acquiring controlling stake in Japanese Gatebox – a virtual home robot – Line will be assisting its users to make payments, book cabs and make purchases that will help them earn commissions. The AI space is definitely heating up, and acquisitions will become the order of the day. And considering the large user base in Asia, the battles for market share will be fiercer here.

Vishal Ingole, March 13, 2017

Alexa Wants to Know You, Personally

Law enforcement will be delighted. Venture Beat informs us, “Amazon Reportedly Wants Alexa to Recognize Different Voices.” According to an anonymous source, the company is training Alexa to recognize individuals’ voice signatures, a feature internally named Voice ID. It would mean certain commands could be limited to certain voices, a security plus. The write-up notes this would also allow the digital assistant to, for example,:

… Serve up custom search results, remember clothing sizes when shopping, follow pre-set preferences, or even predict a person’s needs based on past usage or habits.

This opens many convenient possibilities. Though it has reportedly been in development since 2015, we have no word on when Voice ID will be available to users. Will the competition be able to adapt?

Cynthia Murrell, March 10, 2017

Super-Efficient Speech Recognition Chip from MIT

Here’s an important development—TechCrunch reports, “MIT Develops a Speech Recognition Chip that Uses a Fraction of the Power of Existing Technologies.” This could lead to hardware that stays charged for months at a time. MIT professor Anantha Chandrakasan notes his team’s breakthrough should benefit the wearable tech field:

The miniaturization of these devices will require a different interface …. It will be critical to embed the speech functionality locally to save system energy consumption compared to performing this operation in the cloud.

The chip can distinguish background noise from speech, and switches on when it detects the latter (so power is always “on” a tiny bit). The team used the open source Kaldi toolkit to train the speech recognition neural network on several datasets.

Cynthia Murrell, March 9, 2017

Cook with Alexa, Joule, and Facebook Messenger

Alexa can help you cook with a high-tech piece of kitchen equipment; Digital Trends reports, “Amazon’s Alexa Can Be Your Extra Hands in the Kitchen with ChefSteps’ Joule.” Alexa’s partner here, Joule, is a computer-controlled heating cylinder that, combined with a vessel of water, can cook sous-vide style. One can control Joule with voice commands through Alexa, and now one can use Facebook Messenger to perform precision cooking. Remotely. Writer Lulu Chang notes:

[ChefSteps] will watch how its customers use the device with Alexa and expand skills and tasks from the feedback. They will be training the Alexa skill set how to cook steak and other specific foods.

Sounds great. But will Joule automatically turn off when the cat knocks it off the counter?

Cynthia Murrell, March 8, 2017

From Smart Speaker to Potential Phone Replacement: Amazon Echo and Google Home

The article on Engadget titled Amazon Echo and Google Home Want to Be Your New House Phone consider the perks and downsides of Amazon and Google adding making and receiving phone calls to the functions of their respective smart speakers. The article states,

Amazon and Google could introduce the ability to make and receive calls on their respective platforms later this year. The companies could make use of their existing communication platforms, since Amazon already has the business-focused videoconferencing tool Chime. Meanwhile, Google has Hangouts, Duo, and… Google Voice. Incorporating existing VoIP services like Skype and Vonage into their devices may be another way to go. Echo and Home could also have their own phone numbers, or the option to sync an existing number…

So what is standing in the way of this major cell phone disruption? Privacy concerns, for one thing. A key part of the technology of both platforms is a constant recording microphone ready to be activated by the proper voice command at any moment. The article points out that the eavesdropping data saved by one of these devices is already embroiled in an Arkansas murder investigation. There are other issues, like the device potentially failing to differentiate between a command and a term mentioned in a phone conversation, but privacy is the one that might actually prevent customers from buying the technology.

Chelsea Kerwin, March 7, 2017

The Sellers Guide to Winning over Amazon Alexa

The article titled The Complete Guide to Amazon Alexa SEO on Search Engine Journal positions Amazon as ahead of the smart home curve with their digital assistant, Alexa. The bulk of the article is dedicated to helping third-party sellers improve their search rank so that Alexa chooses their product. Of course, Alexa can help you purchase something on Amazon, and even recommend specific brands and products based on the keywords she is given. The article states,

Amazon has already confirmed that Amazon’s Choice is the program that determines which products Alexa purchases for users. While there is currently no option to submit a product to the Amazon’s Choice program, the company has revealed some of the requirements for being chosen. We know that the product needs to be available via Prime through the Fulfillment by Amazon or through the Seller Fulfilled Prime program to be eligible… Amazon also looks at price, rating, reviews and shipping speed.

Other important markers include sellers that have a history of buyers. Conversion rates also play into this in the Amazon algorithm, and the article details the best way to send potential buyers to Amazon when they are ready to make a purchase. As far as SEO, the best practices include using images, following Amazon’s title formula, and the inclusion of relevant keywords. Read the full article to get more tips on how to strategically optimize your Amazon page.

Chelsea Kerwin, March 6, 2017