Could the Amazon Fire TV Cube be a masterstroke of product strategy?

Amazon has just announced the Fire TV with built in voice features – the Amazon Fire TV Cube – and it may have hit another home run. Here is why:

Penetration for Voice Assistants: Apple’s mistake

While Apple wowed us with Siri back in, Siri never took off. It was a great product for it’s time, and Apple had a great customer acquision strategy. But lack of direction and focus, and therefore stickiness has led SIRI to be irrelevant in the current market. Recent announcement showcase how far behind Siri is – Apple is aware it has been left behind and looks to be investing in Siri in order to catch up.

So while Siri made us aware of digital assistants, it wasn’t until Alexa was introduced that Voice technology has started to get real penetration. Are Alexa and Google Assistant better than Siri? Today, yes – Google is able to leverage it’s huge data sources and partnerships, while Amazon relies on it’s e-commerce and delivery expertise. But, 2 years ago Siri was ahead. And Amazon did not have it’s own phone to create penetration.

Smart Speakers: Are they more than speakers with voice features tacked on?

So what tilted the balance? What was the deciding factor?

Smart speakers: The bundling of voice into speakers and the positioning it as a speaker with additional features. It got Alexa into homes, and it has allowed Amazon to build a customer focused voice product.

#Voicefirst will be multimodal and Amazon knows

If Amazon is to continue leading the race, Amazon needs to be multimodal. Apple and Google have their own phones that can provide such functionality, Amazon has to continue to rely on other devices – the smart phone market is highly competitive. The Echo Show was it’s first effort at going multimodal, but it is the Amazon Fire TV Cube that could be it’s master stroke.

To be a masterstroke, that stickiness needs to be there: new features, such as blueprints and integration with Amazon Prime membership as well as the growing number of people lining to develop apps for Alexa means customers will be able to play with and use, even now at launch, the Amazon Fire TV Cube. Only time will tell if this works.

Alexa Blueprints – Customize your smartspeaker

Amazon newly launched Alexa Blueprints tackle a user experience problem – what to do with lack of things to do – and are a good strategic play around strategic services.

The problem Alexa Blueprints tackles

The common complaint from smart speaker owners is that there is nothing to do with the product. Sure I can increase or decrease the volume on Spotify or change channels on TV. But so what? What more can I do? And while there are over 40,000 skills on the Alexa store, finding useful skills is hard.

Alexa Blueprints is one way to tackle this problem – you can create your own interactions without knowing how to code. And while Alexa Blueprints provides some use cases, knowing human ingenuity, we are likely to see it used for use cases beyond the ones imagined by Amazon – how about using the Pet Alexa Blueprint to remind your babysitter or eldercare worker about special precautions?

Who is Alexa Blueprints for?

Is Alexa Blueprints for everyone? Not really. While Blueprints give you greater control and flexibility, it does feel technical and the average user will still feel overwhelmed when they initially open the interface. A logical future expansion is to make it truly #voicefirst – that is – the user selects, sets and test all elements through the smart speaker.

No, Alexa Blueprints is for the gadget lovers and geeks who want to share their new best friend with others. It expands the scope of engagement these evangelists can offer. It forms as a stepping stone to introduce the Alexa to others.

Alexa Blueprints and strategic fit

In any case, while equivalent to the set of services offered through Google Action, Blueprints does expand Amazon’s service and customization offering. Google your turn?

 

#Voicefirst Ecosystem and Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica’s actions are an issue for the #voicefirst ecosystem. An issue on which taking a clear stance today will help improve adoption and security tomorrow.

Voice is far more engaging and, therefore, intrusive than social media in the influence it can exert. The voicefirst ecosystem needs digital assistants to be travel with us. They need not just fulfill our needs, but to anticipate them. This mean the use of #AIs on data about You. The #voicefirst ecosystem is becoming the most interconnected and data reliant system available to the everyday consumer. This is both the boon and the bane of #voicefirst – powerful information, and in the wrong hands a great tool of destruction.

The Cambridge Analytica fiasco reveals some truths of the world we live. Some truths that need to be confronted head on by #voicefirst practitioners.

Corporations care most about profit

Powerholders such as corporations will use all available means to hold onto power and increase their influence. That Facebook would play party or be complicit is to be expected. There will be others who follow suit. Customer focus and stickiness are only important as long as they are sub-servant to the profit motive – it is harder to acquire new customer than to keep the old ones. Expect this as the norm from corporations.

Solutions:  Bake consumer protection into #voicefirst DNA

No one says your startup cannot or should not legally bake consumer protection into it’s DNA and processes. One such form – B-corps, are available that make all stakeholders the focus before shareholder profit.

Politicians care about winning

While, Obama mining Facebook data to influence elections in 2012 was not illegal at the time, even he, who looks, acts and behaves as the finest of gentlemen, is not below using any means to win, even it means breaching his own voters trust. This is not a one-off case – expect similar behavior by your favorite political party – especially when politics is run by slogans, rhetoric, gerrymandering, and two minutes snippets rather than issues.

Solutions: Use #voicefirst to promote trusted sources

Don’t expect real news from social media (or for that matter, MSM). Find trusted sources online – some like Michael Moore and Jimmy Dore have taken on the system by creating programs that highlight real issues using the same platforms that politicians are using to influence. Some other sources I follow include, TheRealNews and The Intercept. Please share in the comments below any other news show that YOU trust.

Finally, as a #voicefirst technologist and entrepreneur, I see the opportunity to build #voicefirst feedback mechanism that allow users to pose questions around dubious issues, call out fake news and have conversations with each other – kind of like the comment section – but using voice.

Corporations have a poor history of safeguarding user data – this is built into the system

Corporations have a poor history of safeguarding user data – software development is iterative in nature, and it is impossible and impractical to launch “fully” secure software solutions. Infact, it is impossible to create a fully secure system exists. The nature of #voicefirst means that unscrupulous elements will always try to hack, meddle and break into the system.

Solutions: Layer your #voicefirst security

Expect data breaches and build layers of security. This applies to #voicefirst systems in more ways than one. Security and privacy include the ability to identify users in a room and only divulge targeted information. It includes identifying duress by understanding tone and stress. It also includes defining liability when events do happen.

Google and Amazon are not the only #voicefirst players

Mycroft AI is not the only opensource #Voicefirst system, but definitely the one looking ready for consumer sue. While most of the opensource systems are limited in functionality they hint at what consumer really want – a system as polished and refined as what Amazon and Google are trying to build, but with MY data secured and locked in a private cloud at my own premises. Are we likely to see this soon? No – the computational engines aren’t there yet and opensource is too clunky for the average user. But if it was available and worked, would I pay extra for this. Yes!

I believe the #voicefirst ecosystem is going to take over the world. These critical questions can be tackled now, with narratives having heroes and champions, or can be left to tomorrow, with narratives having villains and misguided souls (i.e. the Zuckerbergs of #voicefirst). I want to believe in heroes.

 

 

What can we learn about Product Strategy for Voice from Siri?

Norman Winarsky, one of the original co-founders and brains behind Siri, in an interview with Quartz, shared his thoughts on why Siri has fallen behind the curve.

This passage was interesting:

“Pre-Apple, Winarsky said, Siri was intended to launch specifically as a travel and entertainment concierge. Were you to arrive at an airport to discover a cancelled flight, for example, Siri would already be searching for an alternate route home by the time you pulled your phone from your pocket—and if none was available, would have a hotel room ready to book. It would have a smaller remit, but it would learn it flawlessly, and then gradually extend to related areas. Apple launched Siri as an assistant that can help you in all areas of your life, a bigger challenge that will inevitably take longer to perfect, Winarsky said.”

Here is what I am hearing – when there was a targeted use case – travel and entertainment – it was easy to define the customer and therefore what job the customer wanted done. When Siri became a jack of all trades for everyone, it lost focus and now doesn’t perform any intended function particularly well.

Product Strategy for Voice

To us, this is the crux of product strategy – and it is as true about voice as mobile or web:

1. Define your customer
2. Define the job they are trying to get done, problem to solve and experience to deliver
3. Define what value you deliver
4. Rinse and repeat to expand scope and fix errors

If these elements are missing, the brand value, customer access (via iphone in Siri’s case) and marketing budget might give you a head start, but it won’t allow you to stay there. You won’t be sticky!

As previously mentioned, Apple still has a chance to catch up – and we hate to see a two legged race. Wishing Apple best of luck!

Hey Apple, How can we help you in #voicefirst

Hey Apple,

We are worried about you.

Two years ago, you were leading the #voicefirst revolution; today you are considered a “has been”.

Apple’s voicefirst troubles

You have spent the past few years letting a winner, Siri, sit as a trophy rather than improve it. The improvements you did make felt like reactions rather than you stepping boldly in a new direction. While switching from Bing to Google for searches may improve response quality, it only strengthened Google’s own voice platform.

You spend millions on ideas and concepts that sound cool, but are from practical reality. While, some may buy into earpods, most consumers think they are overcomplicated, expensive and downright ugly.

And when you did take steps that were meant to show commitment for voice, you were a follower with a sub-par product that lacked vision and focus.

We are worried, because you have to understand, you cannot beat Google at the information game, or Amazon at the distribution game. This leaves you with a very limited set of plays:

Focus on customers

Your customers are different than the customers of Google and Amazon. Your customers will pay more for well-designed products that “work” – these are professionals, artists, developers and CEOs, who don’t have time for unreliable technology. These customers spend hours a day working using devices you have built. It is time to double down and reward them. Build for them!

Focus on the vendors

The other strength you have is existing relationships with vendors and 3rd party service providers. It is time to make them your partners. Every other prototyping application coming out today connects with Google and Amazon, but not necessarily Apple. Why? And what are you doing about it? Every second service company has a press release out about how it is working with Google for integration. What about you? You need a hands-on approach to integrating third party applications.

Focus on the influencers

Every influencer talking about the #voicefirst revolution is lamenting about your lack of presence and vision for voice. It is time to listen to them too – for beyond the great ideas they have, they also have a vision of the future. They have an understanding of how voice needs to be structured to provide the next level of services. They have the ability to image a world free from the profit making shackles that your internal employees, advisors and consultants have.  (PS. You probably have gone through this, but here are bunch of #voicefirst influencers talking about Apple)

It is only a matter of time before your fan base starts eroding – I have been on Apple products for over 7 years now – but cannot imagine buying my next phone, laptop or smart speaker from Apple. It is not cool anymore. It also doesn’t “just work”. It is time for you to earn your place in our hearts (and wallets). How can we help you be cool again?

 

Factors affecting Voice User Experience: Voice Recognition

Google announced that the Google Assistant can match you to your Netflix profile thanks to voice recognition.

There are takeaways about Google and it’s strategy from the announcement.

Voice Wars: Google vs Amazon

For starters, there have been a string of pressers about some product or services integration with Google Assistant. While this is not a complete surprise, it is interesting to note the pattern – Google is actively targeting large service oriented corporations. Compare this with Amazon’s strategy of creating seamless access to products through efficient e-commerce and distribution infrastructure.

Factors in Voice User Experience Design:Voice Recognition

My bet? Experience will be the most important factor. For now, Amazon is winning hands down as it has had the advantage of having critical elements of the flow in-house. While Amazon can leverage it distribution system to cover for poor fulfillment by third parties, Google will face a challenge creating consistent end-to-end delivery of service and related experiences.

Secondly, it indicates incremental steps towards a defining feature for some important industries – voice recognition. Voice recognition is going to be essential in factor/feature in the following industries:

  • Finance, Insurance and Banking – accurate voice recognition is key to building safe, secure and private financial voice assistants
  • Automotive – as with finance, insurance and banking, voice recognition will be key in safeguarding assets as well as providing invoking skills for the desired party
  • Healthcare – voice recognition will play a critical part in rolling out services to retiring baby boomers
  • Productivity – open floor offices are the rage these days, but are not ideal for personal voice assistants. Either isolation needs to be provided or voice recognition needs to be spot on

Follow us on twitter at @voicestrategist and keep track on insights on voice assistants, the digital ecosystem and conversational interfaces.

Amazon mulling ads on Alexa?

According to CNBC, Amazon is thinking of pushing ads on Alexa

The move is not unexpected – Google Home has been running ads through it’s services for a while. Amazon has for now denied it will run ads – although some content providers can include ads in their content according to strict guidelines.
But if true, the more interesting question is where will the ads be run, and how much control will each stakeholder have?

How do Ads on Alexa benefit brands?

With the amount of data and context available, ads should be hyper targeted and ad value – or atleast that is the promise. But, the evolution of web and mobile has shown us this is easier said than done. Things can go wrong. Who is responsible when ads are run for the wrong audience (e.g. running an ad aimed at an older audience when children are present in a room)? Or if the ad is run next to an news item that the brand does not want to be associated with? These concerns hold true, and the need to ensure and safeguard brands is likely to drive more and more sophisticated targeting mechanism.

How do Ads on Alexa benefit app developers and content creators?

With Amazon needing to find monetization opportunities for developers, ads may be part of the answer. This is especially relevant for developers and content creators able to build large, content oriented audiences, networks and communities.

The move is likely to have broader implications. This will also be a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs to build the next generation of ad based start-ups.

How do Ads on Alexa benefit the consumer?

The news for consumer is mixed. The opportunity to easily monetize through ads may lead new and interesting apps and business models. But, conversational interfaces and voice apps are all about the experience and ads can spoil them. It will be interesting to see how much control Amazon keeps on guidelines and formats for ad units.

The move, if true, is likely to assuage some fears for brands and retailers – but this does not mean that the underlying causes behind the fears have dissipated. On the other hand, it will be interesting to watch how sophisticated Amazon’s “Ad network” is. For example, is it going to target based on phrases and keywords, likes and interests, or, experiences, personas, and lifestyles?

 

Voice Commerce: Black Friday 2017 goes to Amazon

This Black Friday Amazon took a massive lead in the voice commerce war. I want to use this post just to showcase the numbers.

According to Hitwise, Amazon scored 55% of online transactions.

The next best was Wallmart at 8.8%. CyberMonday is expected to see the trend continue:

https://www.retaildive.com/news/amazon-devoured-55-of-black-friday-online-orders/511719/

Amazon strengthened it’s hold on the voice commerce

The Echo dot and Amazon Firestick were the best selling products from any manufacturer in any category. Effectively, grabbing the device market – the channel to voice commerce – gives them greater control of the overall process:

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171128005840/en/Record-Holiday-Shopping-Weekend-Amazon-Devices%E2%80%94Millions-Alexa

Having said this, the Google Mini, currently  is not doing too poorly – but is far from catching up.

Will Boxing Day bring similar results, or will other voice platforms as well as retailers be able to fight back? If so, how? Will new strategies or tactics work? Or will be it be a loss leader strategy?

 

 

PullString Converse: Understanding the #VoiceFirst Ecosystem

Continuing our discussion about #VoiceFirst, we shift from PullString Converse  to the trends impacting the larger ecosystem:

Michael Fitzpatrick

Just as mobile and touch interfaces powered the past decade of innovation around customer engagement, we believe that voice and AI will power the next ten years.

VoiceStrategist: How do you see the digital assistant and voicefirst ecosystem evolving?

Michael: Just as mobile and touch interfaces powered the past decade of innovation around customer engagement, we believe that voice and AI will power the next ten years.  I expect the majority of consumers to become familiar and comfortable with digital assistants through voice-enabled speakers and mobile devices over the next few years. Beyond that, I believe we’ll see digital assistants become a fundamental part of the way in which we interact with the technology around us.

VoiceStrategist: What are your thoughts on AI – especially, fears around job loss and AI being too “powerful”?

Michael: It’s undeniable that AI has the potential to remove the need for human effort in many job categories.  There are already examples of use cases where it significantly outperforms humans capabilities. The challenge in front of us is what do we do with some of this new found freedom.  If technology is able to improve our businesses and life quality, what are we to do with all this new-found freedom and time?  Answering this question seems to be on a lot of people’s minds these days, and I’m not sure society is evolving at the same rate as the technology is.

VoiceStrategist: What is the relationship around voice and AI?

Michael: In order for humans to be able to converse with technology, a computer needs to be able to understand speech, including the words said, their intent and context, and then surface the correct response back to the user. Machine learning and AI platforms enable these interactions today, and will continue to improve over time to begin to provide even more sophisticated generative dialogue back to humans.

VoiceStrategist: What are your thoughts on VR, AR and Holograms? How do you them integrating with voicefirst?

Michael: It is still early days for these technology platforms, but we believe voice will become a standard interface across VR, AR, Hologram, Mobile, Television, and IoT devices in a connected home.  Our software is already in use to support Hello Barbie Hologram, as one example.

If you missed the PullString Converse story and evolution, you can find it here. We would like to thank Michael for his time and his thoughts.

PullString Converse: VoiceFirst Prototyping Design and Development Tool

pullstringlogo-1.png

For those who don’t develop, a new set of voice prototyping, design and deployment tools for voice apps are available. Last week PullString launched PullString Converse and we got a chance to talk to Michael Fitzpatrick, the President and Chief Operating Officer for PullString.

Michael Fitzpatrick

Michael:  “the product is designed for creative professionals, digital marketers, and innovation teams without requiring any coding or technical knowledge”

VoiceStrategist: How did you step into the field of voice? Where do you see it heading?

Michael: PullString began its life as a technology company focused on building conversational toys for the children’s market back in 2011. The company has since evolved to provide software to empower creative professionals, digital marketers, and innovation teams to build engaging conversational experiences for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IoT devices.

Over the years, we learned by building experiences of our own, as well as supporting other brands like Mattel, Activision, and Nickelodeon who have leveraged our software platform. The emergence of voice-enabled devices and platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are rapidly pushing the field forward and into consumer households creating the opportunity for brands to have highly engaging 1-1 personalized conversations with their consumers at scale.

VoiceStrategist: What is PullString Conversion Cloud and Pullstring Converse? What is the difference?

Michael: PullString Converse is a software platform to design, prototype, and publish voice apps for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IoT devices. It is powered by our Conversation Cloud, which provides everything needed to deploy and support your voice apps once published to Amazon, Google, etc.

VoiceStrategist: PullString Converse is targeted towards “Brands”? Do you see the brands themselves using PullString or the agency(ies)?

Michael: We have experience with both brands directly creating and managing their voice apps, as well as Agencies building voice apps for their clients. PullString Converse was designed for team collaboration on voice apps, and this allows brands to build interactive voice apps with various team members internally ( creatives, digital marketers, and even legal for compliance purposes ), as well as cross-firewall with agencies. Likewise, agencies can leverage their resources and collaboratively design voice experiences with their clients.

VoiceStrategist: How would any collaboration work?

Michael: PullString supports team collaboration by enabling multiple users to engage on a given voice project with appropriate roles and permissions. Voice apps can be easily shared with others in the organization to preview and provide feedback. All of this has been designed to ensure the most engaging conversational experiences are being built with PullString.

VoiceStrategist: The case for informational voice app for Brands is straightforward – how well is Pullstring Converse situated to build transactional systems?

Michael: While there are a variety of informational voice apps available today, we think we’re only now just beginning to see some interesting examples of what’s possible through a combination of custom audio, interaction models, and personalization. Personalization, in particular, is something that can be dramatically enhanced through information available in transactional systems, and is a core part of our roadmap going forward.

VoiceStrategist: What are your thoughts about brands and retailers feeling voice apps are trouble for them? How can PullString Converse help them?

Michael: PullString Converse will allow brands to build engaging, interactive conversational experiences for their consumers. These voice apps have the potential to go much further than product ordering by embracing their brand persona, delivering complementary information and experiences to their product(s), and personalizing the experience for the consumer, at scale.

VoiceStrategist: So I am an agency and I have customers who might be interested. What would a partnership with PullString look like? Do you have easily accessible sales material or demos for customers?

Michael: We’d love to support you! We’ve designed PullString Converse to be a tool you can rapidly build voice apps with, and believe it will become a competitive differentiator for agencies pitching their clients on innovative marketing and customer experiences.

We will be launching a formal program in a few weeks, but in the meantime, please feel free to get in touch through our website and we’ll follow-up to get you started with all the right supporting material and product access.

VoiceStrategist: What kind of technical guidance is required to setup PullString Converse?

Michael: We designed PullString Converse to allow organizations to write conversation, not code. This means the product is designed for creative professionals, digital marketers, and innovation teams without requiring any coding or technical knowledge.

We will be following up on Friday with the second part of the interview, where we discuss the broader voicefirst ecosystem.