Alexa is officially strapped in and ready to ride the highways of the USA.
Back in September Amazon announced, as part of a whole raft of “Voice Enabled” products, that they would be launching the “Echo Auto”: a way to take Amazon’s Voice Assistant with you on every road trip. Well, now it’s here… but only Stateside!
Since the launch of the Alexa platform, I have always felt it could well find its natural home on the move. What better use could there be for a handsfree/voice activated system than when both your hands are occupied? Amazon’s voice recognition processing may be a little clunky at times but when compared to your mobile handsets speech-to-text software its miles ahead. Add to that the benefit of being able to access a world of podcast entertainment with just a sentence and you can begin to see how Echo Auto could soon become the must-have in-car system.
The device itself sits on your dashboard and connects via your mobile phone (it won’t work with in-car systems like Android Auto and Apple Car Play right now) picking up commands via an array of special microphones designed to cut out road noise and clearly pick up the users voice.
As well as the usual Alexa functions such as asking for information, Smart-Home functions and entertainment, the Alexa experience has been tweaked to add in location-specific functions such as directions and points of interest depending on exactly where you are in the world.
The first few Echo Auto’s have now been shipped to a “small” group of customers with demand already “through the roof” with Amazon claiming that there have already been 1million requests for the device (priced at $24.99).
Amazon, by providing an in-car platform for their voice assistant, is only going to gain greater advantage over their rivals and increase their market share. Especially when you add that to manufactures such as BMW, Ford and Toyota who have elected to integrate Alexa into many of their new models. What remains to be seen is how developers can take advantage of the opportunity.
We have long spoken about the “potential” of Voice First but, in reality, much of that potential is yet to be realised. For the most part, the average user sees their Echo device as a novelty rather than an essential in everyday life.
This is largely down to two reasons.
Firstly, we are so used to performing most of the functions that Smart Speakers offers via a Smart Phone; For years we have been trained to turn to the computer in our pockets to perform searches, access entertainment and complete functions and that behaviour is hard to change.
Secondly, the locations where we have these devices (such as the lounge/kitchen) are, in general places, where we are free to use our hands. We can tap at phones and look at screens. So, undertaking these operations via voice still feels like an unnatural action.
Both of these hurdles are overcome when in a vehicle.
Not only are we much more used to using voice commands when driving (I’m sure we’ve all made a hands free call behind the wheel) but establishing a “need” for the functions is instantaneous. We can’t, or at least shouldn’t, be using our hands to make calls, tune radios or find podcasts when we are driving and Alexa solves that problem.
What other potential issues can be solved by adding voice control to a car remains to be seen but it could well be that Alexa finds her true home on the road.