When Google launched its smart speaker it was playing catch-up with Amazon. The Echo had an established ecosystem, and unless Amazon blew it, this lead looked unassailable. The field was Amazon’s to lose.
Since then, Amazon’s arrogance seems to have taken it towards such a losing strategy. Glitzy launches of new gadgets are not enough to maintain a lead. I have a sample of pretty much every Echo device ever sold, and the newer ones aren’t that much better than the old ones. The build quality was always good, and they work.
What could damage the Echo is the slide in functionality.
Most people assumed that the rough edges – things you should be able to do but couldn’t – would be addressed in time. Google stole a march by recognising the person speaking, but Amazon has caught up. Sort-of. Meanwhile Google has been catching up with Amazon on other functionality and ecosystem.
What Amazon is failing to realise is that they’re selling smart speakers. This is the core functionality. They came up with the technology to link speakers in groups, so you could ask for something to be played “Upstairs”.
This is still there, but it’s been made almost useless. In the beginning you could play anything you wanted on an Echo. All music purchased direct from Amazon was added to your on-line library. There was also Amazon’s Prime music service. The latter has gone down hill recently, with the good stuff moved to a separate “full” streamin service. The ability to play your own music by uploading your MP3 files to your library. This facility has just “gone”, as of the start of the year.
Loyal Amazon customer assumed that it would go the other way, and that you’d be able to stream from your local source to your smart speaker groups. Amazon has blocked this, although some third party skills can play media to a single Amazon speaker. Not so smart.
Now Echo users are about to be hit again. From next month feed of BBC Radio, and other things, is changing. You’ll still be able to get them, but only on a BBC skill. The effect of this is that you can’t use an Echo as a radio alarm clock and more, the alarms will be confined to built in sounds. No longer will I be able to wake up to Radio 4’s Today program at 6am. Unfortunately I will still have to wake up at that time.
Ironically, one of Amazon’s enhancements is an Echo Dot with a time display. Just in time for it to be made useless by the software.
Looking at the change, I also strongly suspect you won’t be able to play a radio station on a group of speakers either. The speaker group technology is limited to Amazon’s own streaming service.
The Echo/Alexa system used to just work. Unless Amazon reverses these catastrophic decisions, it just doesn’t work. And now the public has a taste for this functionally, someone else can walk in and provide it.