Voice assistants don’t do it for Big Tech • The Register
comment Black Friday is upon us, but the annual internet price drop seems to be losing its luster. Numerous reports highlight that discounts may not be everything, and shoppers are best advised to shop around.
But behind the scenes, the industry is also seeing the demise of another popular craze that Amazon has been trying so hard to make a difference. With its voice interface device, Alexa, the global e-commerce and tech giant, kick-started a vogue for voice interfaces at home in 2014, leading to enthusiastic households around the world demanding their AI houseguests tell them jokes and answer trivia questions.
But why? That’s exactly what Amazon might be asking. The Worldwide Digital unit, which owns Echo smart speakers and Alexa voice technology, reportedly suffered an operating loss of over $3 billion. Business Insider also claimed that the vast majority of the losses are related to Amazon’s Alexa and other devices.
At the request of The registry, Amazon has not responded to this. Instead, David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement, “We are as committed to Echo and Alexa as ever and will continue to invest heavily in them.”
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Eight years after launch, this is not how it should be. Alexa, along with Microsoft’s voice interface cousins Google Assistant and Cortana, was set to usher in a new era of at-home interactions with information services and retail sales.
By some estimates, the market for so-called “conversational commerce” will be worth $35 billion by 2020.
The argument went something like this. Offering a combination of information and shopping, voice assistants could provide households with guidance and advice – weather, travel, recipes, etc. – while Amazon or third parties use some clever analytics behind the scenes to deliver the most likely purchases over a given time period.
In this slightly spooky vision of surveillance capitalism, we imagine what someone who commutes 20 miles to work on a rainy Wednesday might want to cook for their school-age children — one of whom is lactose intolerant — when they get home. The sheer convenience and utility should make the services extremely sticky. Since Amazon also offers video streaming services, this was part of a so-called “digital integration” intended to guarantee customer loyalty.
What went wrong? While the tech firms behind these services have signed a number of partnerships with retailers, offering access to their platforms via ‘skills’ to allow retailers to take orders by voice, customers don’t seem too keen.
As of 2018, there was a flurry of stories suggesting that voice shopping wasn’t all it was, and that consumers were just as happy to sit down and click away until they had the cart they wanted.
While timers, music and weather forecasts may be good for users, they are hardly profitable for platform providers. At the same time, the first page of the Amazon “Skills” downloads contains four apps for making fart noises.
Maybe it’s an idea whose time is yet to come. But for now, the dream of a cross-platform voice-enabled future for commerce and digital services seems to be on the wane. ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/11/23/voice_assistants_fail/ Voice assistants don’t do it for Big Tech • The Register