Amazon, its Echo. Alexa, the Warrior. (Part – II)

Amazon Echo: A game changer

Amazon Echo was developed earlier than it was introduced in the market. There were bells and whistles that were needed to be perfected over a few years. Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, seems to have played crucial role in ensuring that Echo was a success. He was aware of the fact that Amazon’s earlier attempts at building and selling smartphones and a few other tech gadgets have failed. Amazon needed a game changer. Echo was the opportunity. Jeff and his team knew that market appeal for such a consumer device would only be created when the product is not only of great quality but also mimics users’ life and helps them in a meaningful way. In order words, the moot question was whether Echo had the requisite attraction with what customers would ascribe value to a consumer electronics good, which they don’t much know about / their life does not stop in its absence.

The harsh reality of consumer electronics market is that most products, except for Apple’s line of products, have found it tough to exact-fit sensibilities of consumers. The end-customer of such products do not care much about the process of invention. Neither are they interested much in understanding and knowing how hard / incessantly have the team toiled to build it. What they care about is the final product and whether the product has the power to make their lives easier / better.

Amazon echo & Latency problem

However, Jeff Bezos’s and his team’s relentless pursuit to build a world class product that meaningfully and positively changes our lives turned this device into a market blockbuster. But, the success was not devoid of problems. One of the problems of Amazon Echo was its latency: time taken by Alexa to respond to a query. Though the latency and accuracy have been generic problems for most things related with voice related artificial intelligence apps and devices, Bezos was very particular that the latency of Echo / Alexa needed to be less than unity. This shocked the team. Most giant corporations that were working for years on voice related technologies could bring latency to only around 2-3. Bezos’s dream seemed farfetched. But, with a superlative team and the unmatched leadership of Jeff Bezos, the team of Amazon Echo could get latency down to 1.5. Obviously, it took thousands of tests and experiments with speech scientists over several months for them to get to this stage.

In order to understand types of Echo-response that are exciting / conversational / meaningful for a user, Amazon did an unique experiment. It sat a group of people in a room, which didn’t have an Echo. A subject from the test group was then instructed to ask random questions such as, “who won the super-bowl in 2016?”. Then, an intelligent human seated in another room was instructed to type in answer to the question asked. This answer was, then, relayed to the test group subject via Alexa’s voice. The data that came from this experiment was used by Amazon to figure right kinds of responses expected from Alexa / Echo. This was, then, used to model the product’s responses better – more human-like.

Amazon knew that Echo had to be marketed and positioned well. Early members considered music to be Echo’s major consumer magnet, but Bezos had doubts about this. He felt that people largely perceiving Echo as a music player would hide its more prominent and, perhaps, important features such as hailing a cab (an Uber) or reading out news. Jeff did not want Echo to be positioned as another music device.

When Echo was launched, the number of orders received were overwhelming. The product was an instant hit. Amazon knew it had struck gold and that Echo was its “next billion-dollar business”. The team had created something that seemed straight out of a science fiction and were proud of it.