Amazon’s Alexa event yesterday had a stupid amount of announcements, no matter how you count them. The number of new products was in the double digits, as was the quantity of new Alexa features, and the company kicked it all off by saying it had 70 things to announce. It was overkill, to say the least.
I want to say that Amazon has forgotten how to under-promise and over-deliver, but the better explanation is that the company has embraced a “flood the market” mentality. While Google is clearly focused on expanding Google Assistant’s language support and Google Home’s country availability, Amazon simply wants to stuff Alexa into everything it can.
Others are doing the same. This year’s CES was full of companies adding Alexa to their existing device and simply marketing that. I expect next year’s CES will be the same.
Amazon should let them do that and focus on offering high-quality Alexa experiences, not gimmicks.
Let’s start with the $25 Amazon Smart Plug and the $35 Echo Input, which plug into existing devices and are completely useless on their own. The former lets you control ordinary appliances, but still requires a separate Alexa device, and the latter adds Alexa to ordinary speakers, but it’s really just a dongle.
If you want a smart speaker, or really any sort of smart appliance, just buy one. These plugs are examples of neat crap. They’re nifty when they’re announced, and they’re cheap. Realistically, you can skip the trial run and save yourself some money.
Amazon also announced a $30 wall clock and a $60 microwave. Neither have Alexa built in, so you’ll need to pair either with an Echo and the Alexa companion app.
Cue the “Amazon announces an Alexa kitchen sink” jokes.
Nobody needs an Alexa-powered clock. They may think they do, but that functionality exists everywhere. Hell, even microwaves can tell time.
The microwave is arguably even more ridiculous. Alexa or not, you still need to physically open the microwave and place your food into it. Why would you want to tell Alexa to heat your food when you’re standing right there and can just hit the corresponding buttons?
Amazon has absolutely no idea what will work: making existing objects addressable with Alexa, releasing new objects that are addressable with Alexa, turning existing speakers into smart speakers, or releasing new smart speakers. So it’s doing all of the above.
Most of the event felt like Amazon executives held a bunch of meetings this year focusing on a single question: “OK, but what else can we put Alexa into?”
That’s not the right question. That’s a solution in search of a problem.
Amazon would be much better off focusing on making the Echo lineup unbeatable, teaching Alexa to outsmart the competition, and letting third parties do the rest. Otherwise, it is just devaluing the overall Alexa experience.
It’s not that these devices won’t sell. I’m sure Amazon will convince a bunch of Americans that this is exactly what they need to add to their order while they shop at amazon.com.
It’s that most of them won’t sell well, Amazon won’t ever share how many it sold, and the ones that do sell will end up in a landfill.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.