Remember when Amazon created a new phone and hoped it could revolutionize the smartphone business? And remember how badly that failed? As of today, Amazon just proved that it doesn’t need no stinkin’ smartphone to get up close and personal with its most engaged customers. In today’s product announcement event, Amazon released a full assault on our bodies in the form of a phalanx of products designed to bring Alexa as close to us as possible. If you go all in on Amazon’s newest body products, you’ll have Alexa available in your ears, on the bridge of your nose, and on your finger:
- Echo Buds. These are the rumored earbuds that Amazon has worked with Bose to produce. Trying to jump into the wildly successful Apple EarPods — and to sail past the stalled Google Pixel Buds — the Amazon Echo Buds put Alexa in your ears so it is available to you whenever you want — or maybe we should say so you are available to it, whenever it wants!
- Echo Frames. This is a quirky and downright brilliant move. Skipping right past Google Glass and the massive rat’s nest of controversy that eyeglass cameras still represent in the public imagination, Amazon has placed a voice-only Alexa in a set of eyeglass frames. The frames themselves become an interface that’s easier to navigate and put a microphone closer to your mouth for enhanced communication.
- Echo Loop. Strangest of all, the Echo Loop is a titanium ring that, when held to your ear, can speak to you and allow you to speak to it — for those times when buds in your ear or frames on your nose are too obtrusive or unnatural. I’m still collecting details on Echo Loop, but my best guess is that the success of this form factor depends on how effectively it employs bone conduction to let sound travel through your finger to your skull rather than through a speaker to your ear canal.
Amazon Builds An All-Body Network To Rival Apple’s
There were many other announcements made by the company at the event, but they were all incremental improvements to other parts of Amazon’s strategy — get more Echo devices in the home, connect them to more things, etc. All of that is exactly on strategy, and we have predicted most of it over the five years we’ve been watching Alexa grow.
But these personal devices fulfill a more interesting — and, we think, ultimately more disruptive — purpose. By putting technology on your body today (and in your body tomorrow), Amazon is building its first all-body network — that is, a set of devices that untether us from always using our mobile phones to easily get digital tools and services. Amazon’s all-body network strategy is unique because it targets your ear, your mouth, and your finger — all points through which communication can flow. Instead of merely collecting data from your movements like Fitbit or even just giving you access to apps on the small screen like Apple Watch does, this move makes it clear that Amazon wants you to talk to Alexa first, potentially positioning itself as an intermediate partner in any other technology and service, just like the original Alexa does in the home.
It’s a play for domination of your interface. Change the interface and change the world, I first wrote in 2011, and it’s truer now than when I said it then. Yes, there will be complaints about privacy. Yes, watchdogs will say it’s dangerous, and politicians will even use it as election-year fodder. But it’s exactly the relationship that the tens of millions of digital consumers who already wear smart devices and talk to digital assistants want. Naturally, Amazon will have to be on guard against those complaints, and we’ll be watching closely to see how it responds. But there’s one piece that we’ll watch even more closely: Can Amazon make this lifestyle experience as meaningful as it is convenient? This is something we’re tracking as the competition between Amazon, Apple, and Google heats up to take over your life interface — to have more of your share of life (borrowing a phrase from Stan Rapp and Sebastian Jespersen).
The winner will not only need to put powerful tools within your convenient reach but will also need to fulfill your need for hope. Apple demonstrated a subtle understanding of this at its product announcement event just weeks ago. And though we are impressed by Amazon’s technical achievements at this stage, the company needs to quickly move to demonstrate that it aims to use the personal, even intimate, all-body network to give you hope in the areas of life that matter to you, not just transactional satisfaction. That will mean connecting some important dots, not just between Echo devices and services but between Amazon’s other aspirations, including today’s announcement of Amazon Care, the healthcare service intended for its Seattle-based employees.