- Motorola has chosen Amazon's Alexa as the voice-activated assistant technology to drive shopping and other applications on its Moto Mods accessories for its Moto Z smartphone, as well as other device models in the future.
- Executives from Motorola and Amazon made the announcement at the massive Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona, Spain, where Jon Kirk, director of Amazon's Alexa Voice Service, said the partners would develop a Moto Mod speaker that allows users to use the smartphone to interact with Alexa in the same way customers of the Amazon Echo speaker do. The Alexa Moto Mod is expected to launch later this year.
- Meanwhile, Google made an announcement in a similar vein, saying that its Google Assistant would soon be made available as a feature for smartphones running its Android 7.0 Nougat and Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating systems. English speakers in the U.S. would have access to that capability first, while users in other countries would get it later.
The competitive battle between voice-activated virtual assistants is suddenly moving beyond the home speaker devices with which it started. It's an expansion that was bound to happen, and should greatly expand the opportunities in this fast-developing market for Amazon and Google. While the original speaker products — particularly the groundbreaking Echo — offer a lot of connected home capabilities in a simple, efficient design, our lives revolve much more around our smartphones.
Amazon, with its own array of Alexa-powered devices, may not seem like it needs much help in this battle, but any time it can get Alexa into a different sort of device from another manufacturer, as it is doing with Motorola with smartphones and LG with refrigerators, its rapidly expanding ecosystem for Alexa becomes that much larger. Google recently enabled shopping via Google Home, but it could still use some help chasing Amazon. So, what do you know, it's got its own smartphone operating system with Android, and can pretty easily make its assistant (the thing still needs a better name) an embedded app on many Android devices.
Google's efforts could become complicated, however, if manufacturers of Android devices don't want to make Google Assistant a default app on some of their phone models. There is already talk that Samsung, the biggest maker of Android phones, will offer its own voice assistant technology, for example. Cluttering the Android marketplace with multiple voice assistants or voice-shopping apps could make it difficult for Google Assistant to make progress on this front. Meanwhile, assuming Alexa has Motorola all to itself and vice versa, Alexa could quickly be extended to a new group of customers of long-standing phone brand that has begun a but of a rebound since being acquired by Lenovo.
Amazon and Google likely will continue to announce new efforts to increase the reach and availability of their voice assistants. The e-commerce shopping experience is changing rapidly. Last year, we were all talking a lot about how mobile was transforming that experience, and very soon, we'll be saying the same about voice-driven shopping capabilities. This is how that sort of chatter ramps up — by making it easier to shop using your voice on more devices. Expanding onto smartphones is just a start.