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The battle for supremacy among AI home assistants has made Amazon realize that a voice-only market approach is not enough to create the smart home experience that many consumers expect. With the launch of Echo Show and Echo Look, Amazon is reshaping its smart home strategy, merging Alexa's existing voice interface with new visual functionality in an attempt to boost the evolution of Alexa as a personal assistant. The test will be to see if Amazon's new strategy to fuse voice and visual interfaces is what the smart home needs to hit the mass market.

Alexa's new visual functionality has the potential to disrupt the smart home industry

Amazon recently launched Echo Look as a way to incorporate AI into the fashion industry and drive consumption. The company has been aggressively targeting this industry for many years via private labels and third-party brands. With the new "smart selfie" camera, Amazon plans to use AI to track consumers' fashion habits and make shopping recommendations through the Echo Look app. Using this app means relying on a screen – a smartphone, tablet, or any screen that's suitable – to speed up the entire Alexa buying process. The original Alexa voice shopping skill required users to listen to multiple choices before buying. Besides being impractical, this approach limited Amazon's chance to sell products that are more intrinsically complex to retail than others, such as clothes.

Less than a month later, Amazon launched Echo Show with the intention to go a step further in the evolution of Alexa's role as an AI home assistant. The objective is to make Alexa more useful, engaging, and omnipresent in the user's everyday life. To achieve this, the company has redesigned the original Amazon Echo to include a built-in touchscreen and front-facing camera. By adding visual functionality, Amazon gives users the ability to access more information about their queries, play videos, make video and voice calls, and send messages to other trusted Echo Show or Amazon Alexa app users, simply through voice commands.

In the product development process, Amazon added new features, but excluded others on purpose – at least at this stage. For example, Echo Show does not run a web browser or allow users to install mobile apps, a strategy to discourage users from seeing the new device as just a tablet with built-in AI capabilities. Amazon wants voice to remain the leading interface for the smart home, but is integrating a new visual element to enhance the user's experience and expand the business opportunities that derive from enabling users to see and be seen. With this in mind, Echo Show offers integration with Wi-Fi-enabled security cameras to monitor, for example, babies or elderly people. Ovum expects Echo Show and Echo Look to both open doors for Amazon and its ecosystem of partners and developers in the home security and monitoring space, so that AI can go beyond simply suggesting what outfit to wear to include advanced features and notification mechanisms related to home safety.

Amazon wants to take Alexa to the next level of personal home assistant. Until now, the supremacy of voice as an interface for the smart home was a key element of Amazon's business strategy. This still remains the case, but the introduction of a screen and camera in Echo Show and the need to use the Echo Look app to receive Alexa's fashion advice both suggest that Amazon acknowledges that the visual component of the smart home experience is just as important. Training the masses to use a voice interface to create their own smart living experiences was probably one of the main success factors behind the original Amazon Echo. However, voice alone was never going to be enough. The challenge for Amazon will be to convince consumers that they need another dedicated device with a screen at home to do many of the things they are already doing through existing devices, such as making video calls.


Further reading

Smart Home Case Study: Amazon, TE0003-000936 (September 2016)


Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Consumer Services

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