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Alexa, what’s the point of you?

Posted by Ben Smith on 26th January 2017

Once more Wildfire’s resident Grandpa Simpson is being wheeled out to bemoan yet another modern technology that I fail to understand the appeal of… This time we need to talk about Alexa.

Reports in the past week have highlighted that Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, the “voice controlled personal assistants”, were two of the Christmas period’s biggest sellers. According to some estimates the Echo might now be in as many as 8% of US households, with around 700,000 estimated to have been sold in the UK and Germany. These impressive sales figures have now also set off a round of feverish speculation of which mega-corporation is going to come out on top in this particular device battle.

Now, without wishing to come across as a complete Luddite, I am again forced to disclose that I don’t get it. My head-shaking despair is primarily prompted by this snippet from one of the reports above:

“Research company Gartner reckons that by 2018, 30% of all interactions with devices will be voice-based, because people can speak up to four times faster than they can type, and the technology behind voice interaction is improving all the time.”

Look, I simply don’t believe this forecast. How are voice commands a significant upgrade in utility from buttons and touch inputs – lovely reliable buttons that I can perform pretty much every task I could ever want to via a connected device in seconds. What is the advantage of shouting across the room to a device for it to do something? Is it meant to be time saving? Because that’s clearly nonsense. Is it meant to be somehow that it is a more ‘natural’ interaction? Please excuse while I throw up in the corner quickly – if I wanted a ‘natural’ interaction I wouldn’t be talking to a computer in the first place…

Ultimately these are novelty devices and the novelty quickly wears off (especially once you have been forced to repeat yourself for the nth time because the voice recognition software isn’t that great, or you get a rogue response from Alexa because it picked up the voices from the television set rather than your voice – I only spent an afternoon with one in the room and it gets old fast).

Of course, in the breathless reporting of just which device is going to define the age, none of this is mentioned. Once again we are being sold a ‘great technology innovation’ that is nothing of the sort. Once again the true nature of innovation is bastardised in the popular media. And once again I am left baffled and howling at the moon seemingly on my own.

Ben Smith

Ben’s deep knowledge of sectors as diverse as electronics and IT, cleantech and medtech means he has a wide range of experience to draw on for his clients – ensuring that no two campaigns are the same. Ben’s expertise lies in helping his clients to raise their profiles beyond trade media and he has a proven track record in running campaigns that deliver coverage in national, business and consumer publications.