Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant is being introduced to Amazon’s iOS mobile app via an upgrade rolling out to Apple device users in the coming days, the company announced.
Post-upgrade, users of the Amazon iOS app will be able to tap the microphone icon on the app search bar to shop by voice using Alexa, and will have access to most of Alexa’s other information search functions and skills, including third-party skills.
The announcement comes just a few days after RBC Capital market predicted that Alexa-enabled devices and apps will bring Amazon $10 billion in revenue by 2020.
Make no mistake about the significance of this move: Alexa is effectively taking over the Amazon iOS app, giving mobile users quicker — and probably safer — access to shopping functions and pretty much anything else you can do through the app, along with a lot of core Alexa skills that have not been available in the e-commerce giant’s mobile experience before.
This is really just the latest in a series of moves that have demonstrated Amazon's willingness to expand Alexa's universe far beyond the Echo speaker and similar devices in which it was first employed. Why is Amazon so eager to free Alexa from the Echo family, which apparently has been selling pretty well? Because the existing market for consumer electronics devices, and mobile devices in particular, is so much broader and offers so much more opportunity for growth than Amazon's own line of devices. Keeping Alexa imprisoned in the Echo or other Amazon devices would be a selling point for Amazon in the short term, but Amazon recognizes that devices aren't the point — experiences are.
Sending Alexa out into the vast mobile smartphone and app market could help Amazon enable those experiences for a much larger set of customers. And it's not just doing so through its own iOS app. Amazon already had announced a deal with Motorola to put Alexa into the hardware maker's smartphones and accessories.
There's also another interesting angle on this move. Putting Alexa into the Amazon iOS brings Alexa into perhaps awkwardly close quarters with Siri, the virtual assistant that is embedded on Apple's iOS devices. It's true Alexa only will be able to control Amazon app functions, and only will be able to do so when the app is open, while Siri gets to roam the rest of the device's real estate. But, this move also could be read as Amazon firing a shot across Apple's bow, suggesting that while Apple keeps Siri as a proprietary assistant for its own devices, Alexa is ready to take over the world by being more open and widely available. We wonder what Siri would have to say about that.