The History of the Amazon Alexa Voice Assistant

Back in November of 2014, the world was introduced to a new virtual companion, Amazon Alexa. The new voice assistant came to us with the announcement of Amazon’s new Echo speaker, available only by invitation. Consumers weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Still, they bought them as fast as Amazon could make them.

The Echo featured some impressive hardware, but that wasn’t what caught people’s attention. The original device came with 360-degree immersive, omnidirectional audio, and unique far-field voice recognition that could recognize a device wake word even with music playing. Still, what really caught many of the early adopters’ imagination was Amazon Alexa, their first introduction to voice recognition.

Amazon Alexa certainly wasn’t the first voice assistant to reach consumers. Apple was the first significant player with the introduction of Siri on the iPhone in 2011. Microsoft introduced its offering Cortana at a developer conference in 2013. Still, Alexa made a big splash when it hit the market as the first voice assistant designed to be a fixture in consumers’ homes.

Where Amazon Alexa Got Started

The hardware that initially hosted Alexa was the product of Amazon’s Lab126 unit. Bringing the voice assistant to life required some advances in hardware, especially in the microphones capable of accurately capturing voice commands even from a distance. Not everything that Amazon’s Lab126 turned to gold. Before the release of the Echo, the unit released the ill-fated Fire Phone. The phone never took off and was eventually discontinued. Echo and Alexa, on the other hand, went on to become the unit’s biggest successes.

Alexa has become a powerful voice assistant, but the original skill set was far more limited. Initial designs were for something not much more interesting than a voice-activated music player. Through further development and the eventual addition of third-party skills, Alexa users can now order food, do their banking, control their home, and, of course, order from Amazon’s massive selection of merchandise.

The Secret of Alexa’s Success

Industry experts have many theories on how Amazon has been able to sell over 100 million of these Echo devices. The central answers appear to revolve around user experience and Amazon’s early successful plan to invite others into the ecosystem through Alexa skills.

The team behind the Echo worked tirelessly under the perfectionist leadership style of Jeff Bezos to create a voice assistant that would be easy to use. Once people saw how easy it is to add things to a grocery list, set a kitchen timer, or play a song, they became interested in what else the device could do for them. Many users who began with doubts about the idea of a voice assistant quickly became its biggest fans.

Still, what may have been more crucial to the success of Amazon Alexa is the company’s upfront initiatives to involve others, especially brands, in developing skills for the device. Amazon was quick to offer development tools and support to get other companies to produce skills for Alexa. This not only increased the functionality of the device, it brought built-in cross-promotion as when brands promoted their skill, they were also promoting the device.

The Competition

Echo devices and Amazon Alexa benefited from an early start in the home voice assistant race. However, they are not alone. Both Google and Apple are pushing their own devices and teaming up with third-party vendors to cut into Amazon’s market share.

Unlike Amazon, both Google and Apple have been able to tie their home devices into their smartphone platforms. However, this does not appear to be making a huge impact. According to eMarketer, Amazon is expected to maintain its lead of holding 70% of the smart speaker market through 2021.

Google seems to be the only one making headway. Their devices, now part of the Nest security lineup, appear in about a third of all homes with smart speakers.

Become Part of the Success of Amazon Alexa

Amazon Alexa is leading the way on the transition from text-based interactions to voice. If your business wants to be a part of this, reach out to us. We can show you how your company can have its own Alexa skill and get into the homes of potential customers.

Thanks for reading!