Disclaimer: This opinion is personal and in no way represents my employer. :)
So I haven’t written much lately because, well, busy. However. I have been trying to keep tabs on the Amazon vs. Google voice-based personal assistant contest. (Alexa in this corner, OK Google in that corner, GO!) You can read all about my efforts to order a pizza via voice assistant in my most recent Big Design Conference presentation on my Slideshare … let’s just say it was entertaining.
I don’t have a horse in this race (not working for either Amazon or Google), but since I do work in the voice interface field, I’m very interested in the future of voice. Who will be “the winner?” I go back and forth pretty regularly as I look at the two companies and their approach. So of course, when I saw that Amazon had announced a new product for Echo, the Echo Look, on their page, I was intrigued.
Here’s part of the blurb:
Using just your voice, easily take full-length photos and short videos with a hands-free camera that includes built-in LED lighting, depth-sensing camera, and computer vision-based background blur
See yourself from every angle with the companion app. Build a personal lookbook and share your photos.
My first take:
Brilliant. In fact, I’m going to call this one of the most interesting, boldest use of personal assistant technology and voice user interfaces to come along since, well, since ever.
Why, exactly, is this so smart?
Because it taps right in to something that tens of thousands of people are already doing. Women online regularly take photos of their entire wardrobes, curate outfits, and share them with friends and various online forums. Pinterest, Reddit, The Purse Forum, whatever — it’s something that is happening all the time.
And this fills a need those users didn’t even know they had. Because how hard is it to take your own selfies in a full length mirror? It’s hard. Angles, there’s always a random towel in the picture, and, you’ve always got your phone right there in the frame. Kind of difficult to consistently rock that. But how easy will it be to just use your voice command to take the photo? Easy. Amazingly easy.
(Amazon really should have combined it with the Echo Show, though, so you could look at your pictures as soon as you’ve taken them. It will be interesting to see how they solve that problem.)
Not only did they come up with an amazing and innovative use for voice — this product is obviously rooted in some kick-ass user research. It slots right into a notch that many people didn’t even know existed. Someone at Amazon has done their homework and spent some time on the various fashion forums around the web to observe how women (and some guys!) are doing this today. Confession time! I have myself done this when in need of fashion advice, although I am only a casual fashionista at best.
Regardless, this is a very interesting product with a novel use case.
Here’s my second take:
Amazon’s promo says:
Get a second opinion on which outfit looks best with Style Check, a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists.
Hm. Here’s the thing. These online forums are, by their very nature, social. Women get on there, discuss fashion and style, share snaps and lookbooks, and bond. It’s a space to let their hair down, ooh and aah over amazing bags, and make friends. So even though this product is cool — if it starts to move women away from the social aspects of sharing fashion, maybe that’s not so cool. Is it a huge deal? No, but it could be part of a trend. Let’s get real: we don’t need any more technologies that divide us. We have plenty of that already. We need technologies that connect us.
Now, I don’t know how they’ve handled social in this platform — nobody does yet — so it’s just a yellow flag right now. Maybe social will be super easy with this gizmo. I hope so.
Obviously this is going to plug right in to Amazon shopping. Your virtual assistant is going to learn your style and proactively serve you up new choices to buy that you hadn’t thought about. “Hey, I see you’ve got a lot of Michael Kors in your wardrobe. You might also like….” This device is playing right into the whole narrative around privacy and retail dominance: Big Amazon, our almighty Shopping Overlord — intrusive, for your benefit! Will people have a problem with this device, that is ultimately designed to sell you stuff, and that comes right into your bedroom, has a camera in it, and is designed to take dozens of pictures of you?
Let’s get real: No.
The American public has already shown an overwhelming tendency to trade privacy for convenience. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. Sure, maybe some people will be squeamish enough to put it somewhere other than the bedroom. Some people (probably me) will cover the camera when not in use. However, the steady direction that consumers are making is to let companies track us in exchange for goodies and ease of use. You can discuss until you’re blue in the face as to whether or not we should be making this trade-off, but the fact is, we are doing it every day.
Bottom line: This thing is one more example of Amazon’s dedication to new and interesting uses of voice. And. The fact that they were able to think of this at all is demonstrating some pretty beefy user research chops. I’m impressed. Very impressed. Am I ready to count Google out of the quest for voice dominance? No, but if it were a horse race, at this point, I’d be betting on Amazon.
Fashionistas of the world, unite. “Hey Alexa! Watch me werk it!”