Alexa Mania at CES Has Observers Questioning Apple’s Approach

3 minute read
| Particle Debris

In post-CES analysis, a theme has emerged. Is Apple losing consumer presence of mind in consumer electronics, or is it all just a mirage?

From CES Gallery

Image credit: CES photo gallery.

There’s no doubt that Amazon’s smart speaker combo of cheap Echo hardware and an internet-based voice assistant, Alexa, created a sensation at CES 2018. As a result, there were several notable articles this week that addressed how well Apple is competing in this space, and each of them told an important aspect of the story.

Platform

Ben Bajarin at Tech.pinions wrote: “Apple’s Indirect Presence Fades from CES.” One of his central themes is that, while Apple is hardly doomed,

The critical point here is how consumer electronics vendors need platform partners. The question at hand is whether or not that platform partner can or will be Apple or not. As of now, the answer is no.

This sounds alarming, but Apple has a storied history of going its own way and defining its own approach to the customer. If Apple didn’t do that, it would be selling PCs and Windows as its modern staple.

Nevertheless, author Bajarin makes a good case tha the modern, home-based home automation industry is rallying around Amazon, not Apple. Apple could have taken a different approach. Apple could have built different products. Apple could have sought to highlight its efforts and celebrate its work with a CES keynote address. But Apple is walking a different path with Siri and privacy.

Vision

In a short and blunt response to all the above, Michael Gartenberg thinks, “It’s time for Apple to go to CES.” What if Apple elected to present its own vision rather than lapse into letting everyone else figure it out.

Tim Cook and Apple’s superb executives could put together a keynote that showcases not just the company’s products but its vision for the new year.

Yes, Apple now sees Apple Stores are the biggest and best way to reach the most customers, and not just at events but every day. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. A nearly trillion-dollar company can do whatever it wants.

Mobility

But before rushing into the market and CES with fire and passion, the question arises: Are these smart speaker systems the genuine beginning of a fundamental revolution? Or are they simply a place-holder, treading water until a more fundamental revolution appears. What’s more, is there already an emerging technology that, while off to a slow start, is more fundamental and has a brighter future? And that’s wearables.

Neil Cybart at Above Avalon takes crack at all this in: “A Stationary Smart Speaker Mirage.” He hardly pooh-poohs the Amazon efforts, but he does ask good questions and puts the competitive picture into focus.

Author Cybart looks first at the changing landscape.

The competitive tech landscape is changing. The battle for our attention is broadening into a massive land grab for the most valuable real estate in our lives. Tech battle lines are now being redrawn around three pivotal aspects of daily life: body (health), home, and transportation.

Continuing the analysis, he points out:

I don’t think stationary smart speakers represent the future of computing. Instead, companies are using smart speakers to take advantage of an awkward phase of technology in which there doesn’t seem to be any clear direction as to where things are headed. Consumers are buying cheap smart speakers powered by digital voice assistants without having any strong convictions regarding how such voice assistants should or can be used.

And, right there, is Apple’s opportunity. Apple has always thought deeply about how humans should gracefully interact with technology. The combination of the iPhone and Apple Watch, in whatever form they morph into in the future (see the Scifi series Continuum ), will likely define how we’ll interact with people and things. Not a little speaker on our coffee table. Author Cybart makes his case in his final section labeled “Wearables.”

See also: “Why Apple’s HomePod Doesn’t Play by Echo Rules.

Approach

Right now, however, in post-CES mania, it appears that Amazon is winning the home automation war. Whether that’s the right war to fight and whether the right, long-term technological approach is being taken by Amazon remains to be seen. Right now, by its behavior, it appears that Apple thinks not.

Note: Particle Debris is one page this week.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed on page two by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

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NorthSaanichBC

Some people have been going on recently about how Apple’s Siri is “losing” to Amazon’s Echo. But actually, Amazon’s Alexa is greatly behind Apple’s Siri, in both prevalence and quality of service! Siri is available and being used on well over a Billion devices (including about a Billion iPhones, hundreds of millions of iPads, hundreds of millions of Mac computers, tens of millions of Apple Watches, and tens of millions of Apple TVs, as well as on many millions of multimedia units in cars and head units by many manufacturers). And with Apple’s high end HomePod, Siri will soon be… Read more »

Jamie
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Jamie

Seriously, when have observers not questioned Apple’s approach? 😉 It is entirely possible that ‘Alexa mania’ is a fad, the notion of Apple (or anyone else, for that matter) ‘winning’ CES was always kind of ludicrous. Part of the problem I see with a lot of modern tech is that it’s very age-specific and often era-specific as well, and there just isn’t much longevity in that, everyone gets older and has more complex needs. I don’t think the innovation drought of the 2010s is quite done yet if a tube that is essentially a voice interface for search is considered… Read more »

Lee Dronick
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Lee Dronick

Spot on!