Amazon Alexa at CES 2017: Implications for Healthcare

The press releases and news stories have been pouring in from CES 2017 in Las Vegas this week and Amazon Alexa appears to have dominated the show.

Consider this sampling of headlines:

  • “Alexa Just Conquered CES” –
  •  “CES 2017: Alexa is the Word…” –  
  • “Amazon is Winning CES Without Even Showing Up” – MarketWatch
  • “Amazon Alexa is Everywhere at CES 2017” – The Verge
  • “Amazon’s Alexa is the Talk of CES 2017” – South China Morning Post
  • “Amazon’s Alexa Stole the Show at CES 2017” – CNBC
  • “How Amazon’s Alexa Won CES 2017” - WSJ

In case you’re not familiar with the Consumer Electronics Show, it is the largest consumer electronics marketing show in the world and an important venue for tech vendors to showcase their latest innovations. Last year, CES drew over 150,000 attendees and 3600 exhibiting companies. If you buy or sell smartphones, drones, TVs, game consoles, electronic toys, smart speakers, etc… CES is the place to be.

The Focus is on Devices… but Where is Amazon? 

CES is fundamentally an electronics show, so it’s to be expected that the emphasis is on hardware devices. But Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant software in the cloud. It’s not a device. That’s the Amazon Echo and it’s diminutive sibling the Echo Dot.

Amazon recently reported that their Echo family of devices were the best selling items on Amazon over the holiday season this past month with “millions” being sold, but Amazon is not even present at CES 2017 in any formal capacity. So, how is Amazon dominating at CES, without being there?

In fact, the buzz at CES around Alexa is not coming from Amazon or the success of the Echo, but from other device manufacturers. Amazon’s technology coup was making Alexa and its associated suite of software for voice recognition, natural language processing, and other services available early on to 3rd party developers through Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Developers have responded.

A variety of vendors at CES have announced devices that can be controlled by Amazon Alexa. They range from cars to refrigerators to robots. Many of these devices have Alexa running natively, so you don’t need an Echo to control them. Lenova even announced what is essentially a competitor to the Echo – a smart, home speaker that offers better sound quality than the Echo courtesy of Harmon Kardon.

Is this a good move for Amazon? Well, even if Amazon sells another 10M Echo Dots this year at $35 each, that $350M in revenue, while a nice number, pales in comparison to the billions in revenue they generate from AWS. If you believe that, as Mark Andreessen put it, “software is eating the world”, then it’s easy to be convinced that Amazon is making the right bet.

The Healthcare Angle for Alexa

We’re big fans of voice assistants and Amazon Alexa here at Orbita. We see huge potential for voice-powered solutions to dramatically improve how care is delivered to individuals with healthcare needs at home. But the real potential of voice assistant technologies in healthcare will only be realized when the gap is closed between the capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa and its competitors from Apple (Siri), Google (Assistant), and Microsoft (Cortana), and the requirements for practical healthcare management and coordination.

Developing voice applications for healthcare requires understanding, among other things, how to make them safe and secure, how to integrate them with established care processes and systems, and how to adapt them to varying and changing patient needs and condition. This is why we developed the Orbita Voice Experience Designer, announced last month. We saw a need to simplify how practical voice assistants are built, deployed, and managed for healthcare applications and developed the Voice Experience Designer specifically to address this need.

Learn more about Orbita’s Voice Experience Designer and request a demo.

The announcements at CES 2017 and enthusiasm around Amazon Alexa confirm consumers’ interest in voice assistant technologies. The growing number of devices that support voice also mean that voice will be an increasing and, in settings like the home and car, even a de facto user interface.

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