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Google And Amazon On The Connected Home: Services Have Staying Power

The home is a deeply personal space — so it's a "sticky relationship" once customers bring in devices, posits Google Home's Ben Brown.

Voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing — but voice is just one modality in the world of connected intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

In a panel discussion at last month’s CONNECTIONS conference in San Francisco, Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead and Dan Quigley, STO, senior manager for Alexa Smart Home, talked about the future of IA, visual interfaces, and why customer utility — and privacy — is issue number one. Below, excerpts from their conversation.

We’re reaching the tipping point with [intelligent assistants] and the connected home: All of these platforms in the home today. Are we going to see voice activated devices talking to each other in the future? How will this space evolve?

Ben Brown: Yes, I think it’s possible. I do think there’s definitely a desire for it, especially as we are interacting with more and more different voices in our lives.

But everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user. It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.

We’ve seen this in mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives, but you tend to build an affinity towards certain things over time. That will probably happen here, with [consumers choosing] Google Home, or Amazon Echo, or Microsoft, et cetera. And then purchasing [other items or smart devices] that connect to them.

Anyway, that’s why we’re all really interested in this right now. We’re all working our tails off to try to make great experiences, because it’s a pretty sticky relationship. I think we’re going to start to see that. Services have staying power.

Dan Quigley: Again, like I said, we’re at day one here in this field of experiences. By focusing on the customer and understanding what they want and listening to them, that’s how we’re going to advance the system. Think about what mobile phones were like when we first got them, and what a transformation that has been: Ten years from now, it’s going to be a very different world. A very different experience, but it is going to be driven by these [connected devices.]

I would love to have Google, Cortana, and Alexa duke it out. Let’s have a wheel-of-fortune style game-type thing. [Laughs.] I think it ultimately is going to come down to the consumer choice. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are going to make the decision. A lot of it is going to be based on the trust that gets earned by our companies to support them and pay attention to issues that concern them on privacy.

Dan, the Echo Show just launched. Why was it developed, and where do you see the future going in that respect?

Dan: Voice is just one modality. It has crossed the threshold of being a viable modality now — in that it’s viable in day to day interactions — but there are still certain situations where [visual interfaces] are more appropriate. For example, when I go to bed at night, the last thing my wife would like to hear me loudly say, “Alexa turn off the bathroom light.”

What is part of seeing the future in the “crystal ball” here, though, is that you need look at the technologies that are behind the development of the “do what I need, not what I say” attitude.  Adding a screen to Echo or putting a camera in your closet to judge how you look — it [seemed] intuitive, natural. Again, I think it’s a consumer choice.

Ben, what’s your take from the Google perspective?

Ben: I would just say, I think we’re all approaching this in a way of just trying to have authenticity and interaction. I think that in the home specifically, it’s such a private space that everyone is trying to be super thoughtful about kind of the interactions that we bring forward.

When we start to bring in other modalities, it’s got to add a lot of value. I actually really like the way [personal assistants] are positioned because it’s actually very focused on saying, “I’m going to help you with that.” I think that’s a really intelligent way of saying, “no, this is not about being the all-seeing, all-watching eye in the room. This is very much about being able to help you in a specific use case.” And visual interfaces, visual [search] — it’s very much part of that future.

I think that’s the way we just have to approach it, which is as we do things, we just do them super thoughtfully. It adds a lot of value. I agree with you, I think it’s important that we all do that very effectively. And take privacy and security really seriously — because if any one of us messes that up, then it messes it up for everyone.