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Big Revolution - Can Amazon find its voice?

Greetings from a Manchester to London train racing through the English countryside. Here’s Tuesday’s
August 7 · Issue #163 · View online
Big Revolution
Greetings from a Manchester to London train racing through the English countryside. Here’s Tuesday’s Big Revolution.

Big things you need to know today
  • The new version of Android is called Android Pie. It’s rolling out now on Pixel smartphones, although some features won’t go live until later in the year. Pie will slowly (very slowly, if usual practice is followed) appear on other recent devices over the coming months.
  • Starbucks wants to make clear that it won’t accept Bitcoin payments in the foreseeable future. Sorry.
The big thought
Can Amazon find its voice?
A new report from The Information makes clear just how early we are on the maturity curve of voice assistants:
“Only a small fraction of smart speaker owners use them to shop, and the few who do try it don’t bother again. The Information has learned that only about 2% of the people with devices that use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant—mostly Amazon’s own Echo line of speakers—have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018… Of the people who did buy something using Alexa voice shopping, about 90% didn’t try it again”
I’m part of that 2%, and also that 90%. I once made a shopping order via my Echo and it worked absolutely fine, but shopping when you can’t see what you’re buying is suboptimal to say the least in most situations, so I haven’t felt the need to try it again.
It’s easy to forget that the whole smart speaker market was little more than an experiment by Amazon just four years ago, and Google and Apple have rushed to follow them into the market. Facebook reportedly would have too, if it wasn’t trying hard not to creep people out at the moment.
Smart speakers have quickly become part of our lives. They make sense as a consumer product, but the rush to market has left holes in what they offer. Google can’t monetise searches via speech, Amazon finds it hard to get people to buy things by voice, and Apple’s Siri isn’t really up to the job of living inside a speaker yet.
Given the slim margins on consumer electronics, and the expense of keeping voice services running and improving, tech companies need a monetisable reason to offer voice assistants. The problem is, consumers have taken to voice and bought smart speakers in their millions, so tech companies can’t easily pull back on these services like they could if it was an underperforming smartphone app.
So can the likes of Google and Amazon find a way to generate a steady trickle of revenue from each smart speaker owner? Maybe not, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, once you’re in the habit of using Google Assistant or Alexa (especially the former) it helps strengthen ecosystem lock-in that can be monetised in other ways.
Maybe Google and Amazon will eventually decide that charging software developers for voice-related services is a better model for virtual assistants than directly profiting from consumers.
Either way, Alexa and friends are still a long way from maturity.
One big read
The Information War Is On. Are We Ready For It? The Information War Is On. Are We Ready For It?
Setting the parameters of the information war. “This problem is one of the defining threats of our generation.”
One big tweet
A good thread about a bad idea. Click the tweet for more.
This is going to backfire. West Virginia are moving to mobile phone voting for this midterm elections - software is a ‘Blockchain voting system’ by “Votez”, a 2018 startup with $2m of funding
11:59 PM - 6 Aug 2018
That’s all for today...
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