Amazon Echo Show and the Smart Home
Why hello Echo Show. I wasn't expecting to see you after the weirdly narrow Echo Look.
Frankly, the piece I think has the most future potential is the visual response to queries. Several publications have stated the "killer" feature is video calls, and I'll explain later why I think that is just a basic requirement.
For the majority of humans, vision is the dominant sense. We like it when there is a visual. TV dominates radio. Instagram and SnapChat are two of the hottest social networks. When we go to a Wikipedia page, we expect there to be an image depicting the subject matter. Even when I Google an answer for a friend, often times I will still pass over my phone so they can see any media associated with the answer. The big thing here: the internet has so much content that requires visualization. There is so much more Alexa can do if she can find the appropriate visuals for what you are saying.
One thing Amazon did right with Echo Show is generalize its usage. Alexa can show you security camera footage (Echo Look would have made a nice security camera pair to go with the Echo Show), it can show you a weather map, or you can call a loved one. It's not so niche that it would put off potential new Alexa/Echo users or current Echo owners. I can immediately think of a use I want for it: when I ask Alexa for a chocolate chip cookie recipe, I want her to understand my query and actually bring up several options WITH pictures of the cookies. For home cooks, photos of the expected outcome are key. Bridge Kitchen is an AI start up that would play perfectly with Echo Show. If that was integrated with it at launch, I'd give Amazon the $229 this very second.
To speak on the video call feature: key, but expected. People are REALLY excited about it, but I feel this is just meeting the expectation here. An AI device with a visual display and a camera SHOULD have video calls. It'd be a huge miss if it didn't. However, is that a feature myself, or the average person who'd buy an Echo Show should gush about? No. Here's why. I can FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangout from my cell phone (which never leaves my side), my laptop, or my tablet. Plus, I only talk on the phone to my mom, my best friends, and when I have to complain about my cable bill. The first two in that list have FaceTime already, and I don't use it with them. Most of the time we are talking, I am multitasking a bit and walking around. I imagine the data for this feature to spike when someone first purchases the Show, then trail off as they realize they also don't want to talk to anyone on the phone, or the are moving around too much to use the Show for audio or video calls.
The bigger item here is the Echo Show has more potential as the centralized hardware for a smart home hub than the Echo. It can do everything the Echo does, AND it can show you what it's "thinking." It is like a more robust version of that silly tablet that showed up in every rich Hollywood celebrity's home to control their AC, lighting, and windows during the era when Ozzy Osbourne had his reality TV show on MTV. This is like that, except the average person can figure out how to hook up their home to be a smart home. While you can control your smart home devices through the Alexa app, I hope the Show also has one central place to control all the smart home apps connected. Sometimes it is just faster to see what devices are on and manually select them vs verbally specifying to Alexa what you are trying to turn on and off.
Challenges I see the Show facing are the same challenges Alexa has today as a chatbot. There is just so much she doesn't understand. So many questions she doesn't know how to answer. I don't own Google Home, however, my understanding is that Google Home is a better chatbot, even if it's not a better smart home hub. This is why I see the Show as an upgrade in the smart home hub, but tied to a chatbot who continues to struggle to understand context and return sometimes basic answers from Bing (the search engine Alexa uses). (Though with Siri supposedly getting into the smart home/smart speaker market, Amazon really needs to help Alexa with her natural language processing and ability to use a search engine.)
Overall, excited to see how this new hardware from Amazon evolves. Useful, serves a purpose, and feels like a natural next step in the progression of Alexa and the smart home.