Voice control is booming! That’s no surprise, given that digital assistants like Siri have been with us for years. But only now is home use of voice technology starting to become commonplace. Intelligent speakers are finding their way into many American living rooms. In the Netherlands, voice tech isn’t moving as fast, but that’s no reason to sit back. How can we prepare for the voice assistants’ arrival in the Netherlands? We’ll tell you all about it in our new series ‘Alexa, the voice of Holland.’ This is part one, by our creative strategist Daantje van Gent. Voice control… Is it really that big of a deal? So far, we haven’t seen much of it in the Netherlands, and there’s a simple reason for that: Dutch voice-first devices aren’t yet for sale. Despite that, Gartner predicts that in 2017, thirty percent of all global interactions with intelligent machines will happen through conversational interfaces. In the Netherlands, most of those interfaces are chatbots, which have now slowly started to enter the market. Voice driven interfaces are lagging behind, and that’s a shame. Oh boy, if only you knew how badly we want Alexa to arrive.
In the near future, voice driven interfaces will revolutionize our interactions with devices. Digital speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home will receive a special place in our kitchens and living rooms. They won’t only read us the latests news, but also help turn off the lights, play our favorite tunes on Spotify, or get sushi delivered to our doorstep.
Currently, the four biggest players in the voice-first market are Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri. A major distinction between the different players is the extent to which they allow others to add capabilities to their virtual assistants. So far, Amazon is the only one to have fully opened up their platform to developers. That’s how everyone can help make Alexa smarter.
How’s Alexa doing?
Let’s zoom in on the current market leader of voice-driven smart home devices. Amazon Echo, a speaker system that’s carrying voice assistant Alexa, has been around since 2014. The device itself is nothing more than a speaker with WiFi and Bluetooth connections. However, it’s the voice-activated software that turns this speaker into the cutting-edge of the digital landscape.
With 11 million Echo units sold in the last 18 months, Amazon is leading the voice revolution. That means a whopping 9 percent of American households offer a home to Alexa. Those numbers will only increase throughout 2017, as TechCrunch predicts that this year will see the sale of 24.5 million voice-first devices.
Alexa in Europe
In september 2016, Echo made its European entrance when Amazon introduced the device in Germany, Austria and the UK. Morgan Stanley estimates that since then, sales in Germany and Austria have amounted to 400,000 devices. In the same timespan, consumers in the UK purchased 300,000 units.
Two months ago, Amazon introduced an Alexa API in these countries. With Alexa Voice Service (AVS), anyone can add voice control to a device that carries a microphone, speaker, and internet connection. As a result, we’ll see a rapid increase in the number of ‘Alexa Skills.’ These Skills are new functionalities for Alexa, designed by third parties. By opening up Alexa to developers, the device will soon be able to have much smarter conversations.
Skills? What are those?
An example of an Alexa Skill is playing music through streaming services like Spotify. For more ‘active’ Echo users, Alexa has a 7-Minute-Workout Skill. As your personal trainer, Alexa will give you workout instructions while indicating the right pace. She can also step in when you’re tired of reading the same stories to your children, over and over again. With the Bedtime Story Skill, Alexa will read stories that match your kids’ preferences.
How does Europe feel about Alexa?
German reviews of Alexa have not been very positive up until this point. The main reason is the limited number of German terms (‘slots’) that Alexa is able to recognize and process. For now, localizing speech recognition and natural language processing will remain the biggest challenge in rolling out Amazon Echo to non-English speaking countries.
Alexa Skills cannot solve this problem, but Skills developed by native speakers can certainly help improve Alexa’s fluency. The number of European Skills is growing on a daily basis; British developers created over 5,000 skills in a relatively short amount of time, compared to the 10,000 Skills that the American version of Alexa has amassed in over two years. In Germany things are moving a little more slowly with only 800 Skills.
What if Alexa comes to Holland?
Be prepared! When Amazon introduces voice-first devices (including its API for AVS) in the Netherlands, we’ll finally be able to start building our own Skills. Things that now require a website or app could then be done by Alexa. Obviously, Dutch brands can already start thinking about integrating voice control in their products and services. The first step is developing a product vision that is Alexa-proof.
Unfortunately, Amazon has not yet released any information about when Echo will be introduced in the Netherlands. India appears to be next in line, although we’ve heard rumors that a Dutch Alexa release won't take much longer. Let’s hope so!
Never had a chance to talk to Alexa? Try it with Echosim, the web version of Alexa. Logging in requires an Amazon account.
This article is part of the series ‘Alexa, the voice of Holland.’ In the next article, we’ll discuss Alexa’s capabilities with some inspiring examples from the real world. Interested how Alexa could help you connect to your customers? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org