Report: Amazon beefs up Alexa efforts as competition grows
Amazon is reportedly hiring hundreds of new engineers to focus on Alexa technology developments and prioritizing hiring efforts for projects that support its virtual assistant over hiring for other projects, according to a Wall Street Journal story.
The e-commerce giant also has appointed 20-year Amazon employee Tom Taylor to head ongoing Alexa efforts following the July retirement of executive Mike George, who had been in charge of Echo and Alexa product developments. Amazon did not comment to The Wall Street Journal.
Separately, Nickelodeon and Sesame Street are nearing the launch of Alexa skills specifically designed for children, the first ones to roll out under Amazon’s Verified Parental Consent feature, according to TechCrunch.
The news of heavy hiring around Alexa fits with many other efforts that Amazon has announced over the last year. The Wall Street Journal suggests that the hiring efforts are driven by Amazon’s need to defend itself, Alexa and its Echo device family from the rising tide of virtual assistant competitors, including Google Assistant via Google Home, Apple’s Siri via its planned HomePod device and Samsung’s Bixby via Samsung phones and probably some kind of Echo imitator.
However, the hiring push can also be traced to the broader, more internally-driven growth efforts that have been pursued by Amazon regardless of who the competitors are and when they arrive. Amazon has not been standing still with Alexa, even though it seemed to have the virtual assistant and smart speaker market all to itself for a time, and the company continues to hold a dominant market share.
For example, Amazon began to make more of an effort to build an ecosystem around Alexa last year by doing things like starting its Alexa Accelerator program for conversation commerce start-ups. That effort has continued into this year, as the company has sought to create a series of developer events aimed at broadening Alexa’s skill range. More recently, it has been reported that Amazon is revamping the original Echo device with a new look, as well as some new technology specifications.
The reported appointment of Taylor all but assures that Amazon believes in the path it has been pursuing with Alexa, and is now looking to super-charge Alexa’s growth in the market by turning to an executive who helped drive the success of its fulfillment efforts. One new way the company may look to broaden Alexa's market potential is through partnerships, like the one forged by Amazon and Microsoft last week, which lets the two competing virtual assistants work together.
Meanwhile, the upcoming parental consent feature is a move by Amazon to adhere to child privacy and data protection standards, which could help resolve long-standing concerns about the trouble kids could get themselves into using Alexa without supervision. Debuting this feature, along with kid-related Alexa skills involving Nickelodeon's SpongeBob and Sesame Street's Elmo, should give Amazon a nice lift into an under-developed market segment for Alexa. Creators and owners of kid-targeted content and applications are likely to jump on board, which would strengthen the area.
All of these developments simply confirm what we already know about Amazon: The company is relentlessly innovating, regardless of whether or not competition is in hot pursuit. If Alexa doesn't yet seem like it's everywhere, it might well be in the future.