Virtual assistants are already commonplace on smartphones, and each manufacturer developed its own: Google has Google Now, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana and Amazon has Alexa.
Observant techies will point out that Alexa is different from the pack as it is a virtual assistant that works on Amazon's Echo device and not on a handset. The interesting thing is that by dropping the ball with the Fire Phone, Amazon actually created a big opportunity for Alexa.
We could go so far as to say that were the Fire Phone successful, Alexa would've been a simple virtual assistant, with no highlights.
Experts agree that the big selling point of the Fire Phone was not the hardware or optimization but the fact that users could use Alexa on the go, expanding the assistant's capabilities. With the Amazon Echo, the company manages to do that without binding the assistant to a handset.
Tech rivals use a completely different strategy: to get the most out of Cortana, Google Now or Siri, users have to own certain smartphones or at least devices that have displays.
Alexa steps away from the pack in this respect, as the assistant plays nicely with Amazon Echo, the tiny Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap speaker. By distancing itself from the phone business, Amazon granted Alexa new functionalities that would have been inconceivable in a smartphone environment.
The advantage of embedding Alexa in Amazon Echo is that you do not need to swipe, touch or charge the device. The virtual assistant is there to help you get things done with a simple voice command. Judging by the number of Amazon Echo units sold for Black Friday last year, customers find a lot of value in the gadget.
Echo polarized the developers' interest, meaning that coders flock to give new abilities to Alexa. Amazon's virtual assistant can now use over 300 different skills, such as hailing an Uber ride, dimming your smart light bulbs, playing podcasts, reading books and tuning your Nest thermostat.
Of course, you could do all these things by using your handset, but that requires you to have numerous apps installed. And sometimes you just want to wash the dishes while giving some vocal commands to your assistant.
It should be mentioned that although it is highly refined, Alexa does come with some rough edges. It sometimes misunderstands questions and commands, but the implementation of voice control gives it a strong edge over the competition.
The Amazon Echo shows that the company positioned Alexa to occupy a central place in the smart home. As the virtual assistant can be programmed into more and more smart devices, it's just a matter of time before it becomes as ubiquitous as the smartphones.
Currently, no competitor can rival the Amazon Echo, but the situation might not stay like this for long. The New York Times reports that SoundHound is a startup that's been dabbling in voice-recognition for over 10 years now. It also allows OEMs access to its service. This means that by next year, a consistent number of gadgets will make use of SoundHound's software to talk to users.
Alexa, meanwhile, is on a rising trend as its flexibility caters to a larger market than its competitors that are restricted to singular ecosystems.
With a sustained boost from developers, the virtual assistant could make Amazon Echo the must-have device of tomorrow.