Alexa is about to force her way into every corner of your life - should you succumb?
by Jackie A
A month ago
I feel I'm about to. Especially now Alexa has roped in Hollywood voices to tempt us even more... (Come on Brad, take Jeff's moolah - you have all those children to educate)
Last week Amazon announced 14 new voice-connected products. (Four-teen. Has Bezos never heard of Marie-less-stuff-Kondo?) But yes, the big reveal was that for a one-off 80p fee, the subservient-sounding Alexa will turn into the booming voice of veteran actor Samuel L "You got a problem with that?*" Jackson. (*Die Hard with a vengeance - top movie.) More celebrities are expected to take Amazon's silver dollar. Apparently it'll use recordings provided by these stars as the basis for other computer-generated utterances. I mean - endless fun.
Hold on, how big is this Alexa thing now?
Super-sized and less than five years old. Between January and June this year, the world's richest businessman (Bezos is worth $137bn - rising £3k per second) sold a whopping 28.8 millionAlexas, up 34.2% from last year. Alexa now claims 25.4% of the global smart speaker market.
Stupid question - is the Amazon Alexa actually the Echo?
Confusingly, yes. The consumer always defies those marketing names - a bit like Boris bikes. Anyway, the Echos are the products and Alexa is the built-in voice assistant. Except the voice assistant could now be The Samuel. Or hopefully for you, the Brad. Just to confound you even more.
And Amazon is putting Alexa into every part of our lives including the dog's collar?
Indeed. It's latest product roll-out was massive: the speaker/clock, £59.99; the all-new speaker £89.99; the bigger Studio speaker, £189.99; the Show 8 screen/speaker, £119.99; the wireless earphone Buds, £119.99; the tiny plug-in Flex speaker (fulfilling Amazon’s megalomaniac quest to get Alexa into every single room in the world - they will sell a load of these), £24.99; the Eero Wi-Fi routers, from £99; the Ring security camera £89; another indoor security cam, ($59.99); a colour-changing night light ($29.99); a voice-controlled smart oven, ($249.99); some titanium-framed glasses with built-in microphones, $179.99; a smart ring called a Loop ($129.99); and finally a home alarm system (from $199). All available on pre-order for end-of-year delivery. And that's not including Fetch, a pet tracker designed to attach to a dog collar. "This avalanche of new products underlines Amazon's desire to extend Alexa's reach to every part of people's lives," commented Geoff Blaber, an analyst at CCS Insight. Quite scary.
So where does that leave the competition - Apple's HomePod, Google's Assistant and Sonos?
Stuffed. When it comes to AI devices, they're all getting whipped by the unstoppable ambition of Jeff Bezos who is totally owning the smart home market. He gleans our Amazon shopping data, then manufactures his own version of best-selling products with Alexa inside. Brutal. Sonos should be particularly worried about Jeff's new high-end Studio Alexa speaker. On the day of the product avalanche, Amazon's stock closed 1.5% higher. Shares in Sonos sank 5% lower. Shame.
But isn't the elephant in the room the worry that Alexa is a cyber spy, listening all the time?
Yes. These voice-connected products are definitely listening all the time. Read this. According to Chad Taylor, tech expert at Abt Electronics, they have to "constantly listen in order to work properly" and be ready for the 'wake' word that puts them at your service. At the launch, Amazon's devices chief Dave Limp showed a tweet from a customer complaining about one of its speakers activating without the trigger word "Alexa" being uttered. The response? Later this year, users will be able to ask Alexa "why did you do that?" Known for dodging tricky questions, I'm unsure how helpful Alexa will be. If you are skeptical, this Atlantic article is definitely worth a full read.
I'll add it to my to-do list. But does any of this kit really last? I hear the £120 Echo Spot is flickering after less than two years...
The Spot was Bezos's bid to get a camera into your room. It worked - but now the complaints have begun rolling in. A thread on Amazon's help forum about screen problems has had more than 20,000 views. One owner said his device had started to flicker 16 months after he had bought it and was told the one-year warranty had run out and he could get 15% off a new one.
Fed up with faulty goods? Take them back to the retailer pronto - you are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA), as well as European Union law (for now!). In the UK, consumers have up to six years to make a claim for faulty goods, which doesn't mean goods have to last six years but it does mean a trader can't refuse to consider a claim just because you've had an item for a period of time, if it is 'proved to be faulty'.
Good luck with that legal gibberish. Today's world seems full of Jeffs.