CNET reported last week that Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices, David Limp, said he would consider adding Apple Siri or Google Assistant access through the Echo. His comments were:
We’re open to that. If Apple or Google want to come call, my phone number is out there. They can call. I hope there is a day when that happens. I don’t know if I can envision it, but I hope it happens, on behalf of customers.
Is This A Serious Statement
The comment came in the wake of the Apple HomePod launch. Is David Limp serious? Well, probably. Amazon surely wants Alexa to be the first choice for consumers. However, you could easily conceive of scenarios where Amazon doesn’t have competitive features that it would want to provide access to for consumers. Today, Google, Apple and Microsoft have a great deal of information about peoples’ lives that really extend the value of voice assistants. Calendars is one example. Amazon has addressed this by providing calendar integrations.
But what about other services such as mapping and travel or office productivity applications where API integration may be insufficient? These features might entice a consumer to choose for example a Cortana-based product over Echo. Amazon wouldn’t want to lose that consumer, because then Alexa access isn’t in that person’s life. And, that means you can’t order by voice from Amazon. Allowing your Alexa-based device to also provide some Cortana-enabled features makes some sense as long as it ensures Alexa is available to that consumer. Don’t expect this anytime soon, but I would’t rule it out long term.
Amazon and Apple Have Different Philosophies – No Kidding
Limp also pointed out that Amazon and Apple have different philosophies about the product. That’s not exactly news. The companies have followed two very different product strategies over time with Apple focusing on premium products and advanced features while Amazon relentlessly pursues the low cost value segment. However, the example provided around these philosophies in relation to voice assistants and smart speakers is on the mark. CNET’s summary of Limp’s comments at the Wired Business Conference in New York last week put it this way:
Amazon’s intention is to make its Echo devices cheap enough that people can put them all over their house, Limp said. That’s why Amazon created the. At a much steeper price, putting a HomePod in every room would be prohibitively expensive for most customers.
That is exactly right. A consumer can outfit seven rooms with Echo Dots for the price of a single HomePod. Or, they could place Dots in three rooms and have $200 left over to add a nice speaker in one of those rooms.
The Dot and the Ubiquity Strategy
The purpose of the low-priced Echo Dot and its partnership with third-party OEMs is part of Amazon’s Alexa ubiquity strategy. Place a device everywhere possible that provides access to Alexa as a voice assistant. Let the consumer decide which device they prefer, but make sure it’s Alexa that is available. Amazon produced the Dot because it was unclear that any third party would deliver such a low priced option.
Apple, by contrast, needs a home based smart speaker option for consumers, but it already has its own ubiquity strategy through the iPhone. You have a HomePod speaker where you want your high end music and everywhere else you use your iPhone. This might not really be ubiquitous access for the masses, but rather ubiquity for the well-healed Apple customer that can afford $700 smartphones and $350 speakers.
For Amazon, ubiquity is by definition for the masses not just the premium segment. That means low cost devices and it may mean allowing access to Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana through Amazon Echo. Whatever offers Alexa the greatest reach and makes it harder for Apple, Google and Microsoft to create closed ecosystems if probably in Amazon’s best interests long-term. It may be hard to “envision” as Mr. Limp suggests, but don’t rule it out either. Amazon is implementing a very different strategy than its rivals.