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?


Earthday 2018 Deals: Voicefirst, IoT, Environmental Impact and Takeaways for Retailers

Why is voicefirst exciting? Beyond the enhanced immersion and engagement, voicefirst is also opening up opportunities “to do better”. One area where this impact is most felt is the energy conservation and environmental impact.

Voicefirst is a mechanism to control services. Whether is turning down the thermostat, controlling the blinds, managing the oven or lighting up the room, not only does voice give you control, but it also allows you to automate these features. On their own, these features might not do much for the environment, but when millions of people optimize their energy consumption across devices, the impact can be significant.

Sunday, April 22nd is earth day, and many companies are playing their part by offering deals on products: offers on Echo, Echo Show and Echo Dots has 20% off on Echo devices, with the Echo Dot available for $28.85, the EchoShow at $124.15 and the Echo at $67.  You can find all the details on the Amazon Warehouse Deals page.

You can also hunt for deals and used TV’s, Lights, Vacuums, and Appliances. To find products that work with the Echo, check the “Works with Alexa” filter in the right hand column:

Get the Ecobee 3 Lite if you are in Canada

The Ecobee 3 Lite is CAD $25 off in Canada:

In addition, you may also be eligible for rebates:

The Ecobee 3 Lite works with Siri and Amazon Echo. (US) offers Amazon Echo with Two or More Appliances

Bestbuy is offering an Amazon Echo worth US $99 when you buy two or more appliances totaling more $1499:

While the offer is good, consumers will feel a bit lost. BestBuy does not indicate, like Amazon does, which appliances interface with the voice services. For retailers, indicating which voice ecosystem the appliance interfaces with needs to be a standard web design feature.

#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?


Designing better responses for searches by voice

Google has published a detailed post on what snippets are and why they are important to those searching by voice.

As part of the the blog post, Google shared:

“We display featured snippets in search when we believe this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description and when they click on the link to read the page itself. It’s especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.”

Snippet responses for searching by voice: the business angle

From a business perspective, short of building your own voice skills, this is also an opportunity to explore options and experiment with voice. In addition, snippets create a way to standout from the “ten blue links” for mobile and web searches. Finally, snippets and click data offer a greater insight into the mind of the customer as he lands on the page.

The caveat? The importance of designing answer that are useful, provide a positive experience and guide your potential customer to the next steps in the process.

A framework for rating snippets and voice responses

And that is where we take a leaf out of Google’s UX playbook. The guidelines for evaluating speech that Google has posted provides a great framework for approaching and tackling voice responses and snippets. First and foremost I love the emphasis on meeting customer needs.

In addition, the document hints at what Google considers important in building a great voice experience – and therefore items that you should consider when user testing responses as part of your voice solutions:

  1. Ability to meet user needs
  2. Length of response
  3. Formulation
  4. Elocution

Finally, the wireframe at the end of the document shows a possible way to conduct internal testing and elicit structured, actionable feedback.

If you found this useful, you like the piece on driving retention for your voice app or skills.

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?


How to drive retention and remind users about your voice skills

We saw it with dot com bust and the emergence of mobile apps, and now we are seeing it with voice apps – there are thousands of voice apps, but few are regularly used and have good retention rate. Currently retention rate is estimated between 3% and 4%.

How to improve retention rate for voice skills and apps?

Need a go-to-market strategy? Or have you launched but people don’t use your skill. Here are five tips to improve retention for your apps:

1. Select the right problem to solve and experience to deliver

Before anything else, selecting the right problem to solve and the right tone to solve it in can make or break your app. Spend time figuring out who your customer are, how your app ads value to their life and what kind of experience they are looking for in the interaction. The tone and design need to reflect your offering – having a hip, teenage sounding voice for your banking app may be cool, but doesn’t inspire confidence.

2. Skill ranking in Amazon Alexa

If your app truely delivers value for customer, you should aim for and remind customers (at the right time – we don’t want to spam users with popups and reminders) to set your skill as a primary skill. If your users love your skill, they are likely to follow suit.

3. Multi-channel approach

Guiding people to use your voice skill or app, and keep it top of their mind isn’t just about having the app available. It will require having a strong go-to-market strategy. The low hanging fruit? Your existing users on other channels. Design campaigns to onboard them and get their feedback.

4. Notification for installed skills

Amazon has enabled notifications and Google Home also has notifications available – the notifications can be directed to the smart speaker or your phone. Notifications are a great way to remind users of updates and re-engage them. Keep in mind what users would consider annoying or spam. We want to increase engagement, not drive users away.

5. Create habit use cases

Finally, creating habit use cases and prioritizing them in development also will lead to higher interaction and involvement levels. Here is another post that provides an interesting perspective on habit formation:

This post is based around a question asked in VoiceTO Meetup. For credit where it’s due – thanks Guy, Polina, and Tim – I took their pointers and expanded on it

Also check out our other posts on voice design and ux and voice product strategy