Amazon launched their new voice activated home assistant Alexa unit called Echo in the UK today and I have got my grubby mitts on one. So is it any good? Read on…
First of all, some basics. Echo is about 10 inches tall and looks a bit like a fat Pringles tube. It comes in 2 colours, black or white, and has the ubiquitous blue light like a LED halo around the top of the tube. Cost? £150. Unless you pre-ordered on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago (like yours truly) and got it for £99. It has a series of 7 nifty built-in microphones that use a technology called ‘Far-Field Voice Recognition’. I’ve no idea how it works but all that I can tell you that it really does work from quite far afield and even when it’s playing music. The set-up was an absolute doddle. Just download the compatible app, follow the instructions et voila it’s all connected in less than a minute.
So what exactly does it do?
At its most basic, it’s a decent quality Bluetooth speaker. But, Echo’s party trick is that it links to your home wi-fi network to become a voice activated virtual assistant called Alexa, enabling you to access information straight from the internet plus control compatible smart devices in your home just by using voice commands.
You wake up the device simply by saying ‘Alexa’ and the cool circle of blue light immediately illuminates. You then just add a request. Such as? Well, pretty much anything. Like what’s the weather going to be like today? What time does the Celtic vs Manchester City game kick off tonight? Does my bum look big in these jeans? Alexa answered the first two questions instantaneously, but was rather flummoxed by the final query and responded with “I’m not sure I understand what you mean”. Maybe she was just being polite?
Beyond just answering my pointless questions, Alexa is a pretty smart lady. Want to play your favourite playlist from Spotify? Easy. Just ask her to shuffle your ’80’s Rock Tunes’ and she dutifully complies. Add a 6 pack of toilet rolls onto your shopping list? Done. Sync a meeting with your Google Calendar? Just ask.
And now we are really getting started with her skills.
It seems that Alexa can also control any connected devices in your home such as your central heating, lighting, plugs, door locks or electrical appliances. Now you will need to upgrade your infrastructure with one of the many systems available on the market right now (whether that be Nest, Phillips Hue, Samsung SmartThings etc.). I haven’t actually got any of these systems in place as yet so I can’t tell you with any surety if they are worth the investment or whether they work well, but give me a few weeks and I will let you know…
It seems that Alexa is also continually learning and adding new skills to her ever-expanding repertoire. She can already detect different voices and can be trained to understand different regional accents (she quickly learned my Mancunian twang). And on the horizon? You will be able to order a huge range of goods and services directly from Alexa just by asking her. Alexa will even remember what you have ordered previously and remind you if you need to replenish. The e-commerce possibilities are endless.
After just a few hours of playing around with the Echo, are there any faults? So far, there appears to be just the one. Our youngest daughter is called Alexa. This gets very confusing when we are admonishing her for not eating her greens and they simultaneously reply “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
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OMD EMEA’s Head of Mobile, Alex Newman outlines the key trends to expect at this year’s Mobile World Congress, and what they mean for the marketing and media industry.
Next week, just under 100,000 people will travel to Barcelona to celebrate a birthday. From Mark Zuckerberg to Lewis Hamilton, the who’s who of the ever-expanding mobile and tech world will descend upon the Fira Gran Via for the 30th Mobile World Congress (MWC).
For those of you who have never been, just picture the biggest exhibition you’ve ever encountered – around eight full-sized football pitches – of the world’s leading technology companies (except for one notable exception) showing off their latest hardware and software innovations.
“I always travel to Barcelona filled with a sense of excitement to see at first hand the progress being made within the industry I love”
This year’s theme? ‘Mobile is Everything’, which of course is something I’ve preached for a long time.
For me the theme is simply an acknowledgement that mobile connectivity is finally beginning to seep into all aspects of everyday life, and really is opening up a plethora of new opportunity. Whilst I’m yet to ascertain if I’ll be over or underwhelmed or by what’s in-store, as an MWC pilgrim I always travel to Barcelona filled with a sense of excitement to see at first hand the progress being made within the industry I love.
The trends you will see spoken about at this year’s event will closely mirror those of 2015.
NEW DEVICES, AND LOTS OF THEM
Every MWC is characterised by numerous new launches with most major handset manufacturers having something new to shout about.
The rumour mill is already spinning with indications that Samsung, LG, Sony, Microsoft and HTC are all tipped to be unveiling something new. Expect to see bendy and foldable phones, new types of battery technology, handsets that emit less heat. We will also see a growing number of Chinese manufacturers offering significantly but sophisticated handsets.
VIRTUAL REALITY GOES MAINSTREAM
Portable virtual reality headsets are set to be a major focus at this year’s MWC with new unveilings being unveiled by the Facebooks Oculus Rift partnership, new updates of the HTC Verve platform, and the new IOS update from Google facilitating a further push into the VR Space.
Interestingly from Google, it is all about the software as opposed to the hardware-based approach from others. The point is manufacturers are pushing each other to develop better and cheaper platforms, making device ownership a reality for consumers.
5G is set to be THE theme of MWC 2016, as operators begin to get their hands around best ways to roll out this new technology.
Frankly, we as consumers need this planning, as the need for 5G services is already growing, and we need the roll out to be smoother and quicker than was the case with 4G, a bit like the service itself!
Internet chatter is already pointing out the potentially game changing implications this could have for industry as mobile consumers are able to access heavy data files at almost instantaneous speeds. This is seen as being a major ingredient that finally brings the internet of things to life. We can expect a few demonstrations of how the technology could be used to be on show at this year’s event.
INTERNET OF THINGS
This year’s MWC tagline ‘Mobile is everything’ seems to lend itself directly to the Internet of Things (IOT). At previous years shows we have seen dedicated pavilions set up to demonstrate how the IOT will come to life, in terms of how technology can integrate with everyday tasks. This year will be no different, and there promises to be plenty of manufacturers demonstrating how connectivity will play a role within their previously unconnected products.
Expect to see connected toothbrushes that talk to bathroom mirrors to tell you about oral health; washing machines that talk to your mobile app shopping list; toilets that talk to your health tracker to analyse your food and drink intake.
Driverless car technology has invaded MWC over the previous two years, and with the number of auto manufacturers exhibiting at the 2016 event increasing, I can only see a greater emphasis on this area.
When connected cars were first discussed, the conversation centred on the work Google and Apple were doing and the potential for disruption this offered. Since then, manufacturers have been keen to take back ownership of this area, and with Ford, Volvo, Jaguar and Toyota all rumoured to be unveiling their work at this show.
It is no secret that auto manufacturers see connected cars as offering them the possibility to generate a new influx of consumer money, so the race to launch the best products in this area is well and truly on.
LACK OF ANYTHING NEW?
At first glance the apparent lack of anything new seems to be disappointing, but when you take a closer look actually the reverse is true.
It is not that the technology is not evolving, it is that the development is no longer focused on the breaking of new ground, but instead upon bringing these lofty concepts to fruition. That means taking a concept such as wearable technology and ensuring it works seamlessly and has a useful application within the real world, as well as ensuring cost of ownership makes it attainable at scale.
In my opinion these are the lenses that both device manufacturers and new technology developers need to apply to the products they launch. When these basic requirements are fulfilled we see the advent of new and exciting products and services that change the world – and at that point technology really does become exciting for both brands and consumers.
“These companies are the new giants of the global economy, and their success is down to the smartphone”
Since 2007 the smartphone has provided a platform that enabled new types of business to come into existence, and furthermore allowed them to grow their user-base rapidly. We have all marveled at services such as Uber, Airbnb, Hotels.com, and Amazon amongst many others.
They all have one thing in common: they identified a natural consumer behaviour and understood how they could use connected technology to simplify that behaviour, and then launched highly successful business upon the back of that insight. These companies are the new giants of the global economy, and their success is down to the smartphone.
BUNCH OF SENSORS
When you look at it, what is a smartphone? It is just a bunch of sensors that enables us to connect with our surroundings in new ways. The trends we will see highlighted at MWC 2016 such as the Internet of Things, 5G and wearables are simply a manifestation of these same sensors moving from only existing within the smartphone to being embedded within any number of previously unconnected devices.
But why is that interesting? In the same way that the smartphone gave birth to new businesses, new monetisation models, and new ways to engage consumers, wider connectivity will provide a more exciting platform for new companies to launch products and services that have not been imagined yet.
We have already seen evidence of that in the developments being made within the health industry based upon wearable devices, and the travel and luxury industries based upon virtual reality. I travel to MWC more out of excitement than anything – I want to understand the progress that is being made in putting together the essential building blocks that will enable a whole new layer of business and marketing opportunities.
Although the themes coming out of this year’s event will not change from the usual, I am hopeful the developments unveiled there will provide proof that progress is being made, and these lofty concepts we have all heard about are becoming attainable.
Most of all, I hope to leave MWC feeling inspired, armed with new ideas of products and marketing services that represent significant opportunities for my clients, that although we may have theorised about previously, are now possible! So come on MWC, don’t let me down. Here’s to another great week in Barcelona – hope to see you there!