In short, Amazon is building the operating system of the home – its name is Alexa – and it has all of the qualities of an operating system you might expect:
- All kinds of hardware manufacturers are lining up to build Alexa-enabled devices, and will inevitably compete with each other to improve quality and lower prices.
- Even more devices and appliances are plugging into Alexa’s easy-to-use and flexible framework, creating the conditions for a moat: appliances are a lot more expensive than software, and much longer lasting, which means everyone who buys something that works with Alexa is much less likely to switch.
It’s definitely an interesting case to make – and Ben Thomspon does it well – but I still have a very, very hard time seeing voice-driven interfaces as anything but a gimmick at this point in time. Every point I made about this subject in the Summer of 2016 still stands today – limited functionality, terrible speech recognition, inability to deal with dialects and accents, and the complete and utter lack of support for people who live multilingual lives.
I can’t hammer this last point home often enough: not a single one of the voice-driven interfaces we have today – Alexa, Siri, Google Now, Google Assistant, Cortana, whatever – support multilingual use. Some of them may allow you to go deep into a menu structure to change input language (while some, like smartwatches, even require a full wipe and reset), but that’s not a solution to the problem of switching language sometimes even several times a minute, something multilingual people have to do dozens of times every day. And again – there are literally hundreds of millions of people who lead multilingual lives.
Heck, Alexa is only available in English and German!
If voice-driven interfaces are really as important as people make them out to be, they’ve got at least a decade of development ahead of them before they become actually useful and usable for the vast majority of the world.