The next big thing in home media… and everything else!

It seems that every few months, talk around tech is predicting the next big thing. A while ago, it was 3-D television. Then it was virtual reality. But now I feel confident in my prediction about the coming ubiquity of the home assistant. First manifested in Amazon’s Echo (aka, Alexa), and now including devices from Google and Apple, these units will recognize commands and respond accordingly when activated.

I have been saying this since I first saw the Echo in action – as have many other prognosticators (I’m hardly exceptional in this regard) – but it was reaffirmed recently when I read this article TechCrunch.

Alexa’s latest trick is offering a hands-free TV viewing experience, that will allow consumers to turn on or off their television, change inputs, fast forward, rewind and more, without having to first invoke a specific skill, or even press a button on their remote.

A friend recently asked about the wisdom of investing in this Amazon device, and while I endorsed its utility in the technophile’s household, I also cautioned about being lured into the Amazon ecosystem. In much the same way that Apple has created a successful universe built around its devices and software, Amazon is doing the same, but with a much broader consumer component, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of Whole Foods. It also has a very robust media segment, with the Washington Post Group under its control, and a growing amount of entertainment IP. Perhaps its smartest move is a very intentional efforts at developing a children’s programming slate, which will pay huge dividends as these tiny consumers become free-spending adults.

This points to the biggest fault I’ve detected in Apple’s strategy since Steve Jobs’ passing (although he isn’t absolved of blame completely). While they had (and still have) the cash reserves, I always felt that purchasing a media giant like Sony would have given them the expertise, content, and breadth to deliver a wide spectrum of content, gaming and skills to compete with the other players out there.

It will be interesting to see how the various companies develop and transform their businesses to become their own ecosystems, uniting the devices, software, IP, market strength and ingenuity, to deserve loyalty and capture users. For now, at least, Amazon has the early lead, but it is early and things change.

To that end, I am reminded of the early days of VCRs. Sony had the technological edge and qualitative superiority with its Betamax, but the VHS won the war by being less greedy in the short term and ultimately bringing in the lion’s share of the content, along with a corresponding price drop driven by the number of manufacturers of the VHS players.

All this is to say, watch the home assistant market. I believe that how a company develops the technology, how good its voice recognition is, its ability to play well with others, and its ease of use, will greatly improve the chances of widespread adoption.

 

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