A few years ago, no one would have believed that a voice assistant pulled right out of something as outlandish as The Jetsons would find the success it has today, but that is the reality of Amazon’s Alexa.
“By early 2019, Amazon had shipped more than 100 million Echo devices, making it the leader in the highly contested smart speaker market” Statista confirms.
However, after conquering our homes with the Amazon Echo smart speaker in just a few years, it now intends to do the same with our cars.
Alexa goes for a ride: Enter the Echo Auto
For those of us too attached to their Alexa, now it can go for a drive with you too. For the rest of us, it doesn’t do much more than what most modern car entertainment systems or simply a hooked up smartphone can perform.
Just like a regular phone, you can mount the Echo Auto (to be listed at $50 upon mass release) in your car and have the device set up in a couple of minutes, if not less.
“For people with newer cars, the Echo Auto will feel largely redundant,” CNET highlights in a hands-on review. “Sure, it lets you access music or make a call with a simple voice command rather than tapping your dash display, but those displays are built for easy access.”
CNET continued: “For people with older cars, on the other hand, Alexa in the passenger seat is a serious upgrade. You can easily request songs or playlists with Amazon Music, Spotify or any other Alexa-connected services you use; you can check traffic on the way home; you can make hands-free calls. Fifty bucks to close the features gap between 15- and 5-year-old cars isn’t bad at all.”
Also, Amazon is equipping Alexa with some new, auto-exclusive features, such as “the ability to pay for gas at Exxon stations (US-only),” Business Insider reported.
Still, Alexa feels more at home – at home – than in a moving vehicle. Some of the limitations of modern voice assistants still apply here, and the Echo Auto clearly bears those flaws.
“Does the Echo Auto bring anything new to the table – or the dashboard?” CNET asks. “Sadly, not really. Step-by-step directions, audio settings controls or even things like reading incoming text messages all could have set the Echo Auto apart, giving it compelling, car-specific features. But none of those is included.”
Still, Amazon is banking big time on Alexa in vehicles
While Alexa’s current in-vehicle offering is lackluster, there’s always room to improve, and Amazon is banking on that for the coming years.
“Amazon-backed electric carmaker Rivian — which plans to supply over 100,000 delivery vans for Amazon beginning in 2021 — and Italian supercar maker Lamborghini signed up to integrate Alexa into future in-car infotainment systems,” Business Insider reported. “This adds to an extensive list of automaker partners that includes Ford, Audi, BMW, GM, and Toyota.”
Given that “nearly 95% of consumers are expected to use voice-based digital assistants such as Alexa in their cars by 2022, according to Capgemini,” it makes sense why Amazon is pouring money into their mobility-friendly Alexa. Consumer sentiment supports this as well: 62% of consumers prefer having the same digital assistant integrating their vehicle, home, and mobile device experiences.
Amazon plans to launch the device in markets outside the US in 2020, starting with India.
A quick snapshot of the smart speaker market
There is big money to be made in the smart speaker and voice assistant market, and the numbers prove it.
According to the latest edition of NPR and Edison Research’s “Smart Audio Report,” more than 60 million Americans aged 18+ owned at least one smart speaker by the end of 2019.
This is per Statista, which also highlighted the fact that “many smart speaker owners don’t stop at one device. According to NPR and Edison Research, smart speaker households in the U.S. now own 2.6 smart speakers on average, explaining why the number of speakers in U.S. households is much larger at 157 million than the number of smart speaker owners.”