It’s a sign of Amazon’s relentless pace: Already this year, it launched the Echo Look (a voice-controlled camera) and the Echo Show (a voice-controlled tablet/video phone), both of which constituted major new product categories.
The obvious question among the shellshocked observers of Amazon’s product barrage: Will it work?
Will anybody actually want the Echo Spot, a tiny alarm clock with a camera that sits at their bedside? Does anybody really want Echo Buttons, which act as single-button video game controllers? And how big is the market for the Echo Plus, which helps make smarter homes?
The real answer to that question should terrify any of Amazon’s competitors. Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
I always go back to what CEO Jeff Bezos said after the notorious high-profile flameout of the Fire Phone, Amazon’s disastrous attempt to compete with Android and iPhone. Make no mistake, people lost their jobs, and Amazon was forced to rethink its hardware approach. And yet, Bezos seemed unfazed by the whole affair.
“If you think that’s a big failure, we’re working on much bigger failures right now. And I am not kidding. And some of them are going to make the Fire Phone look like a tiny little blip,” Bezos said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Right now, Amazon Echo and the Alexa voice assistant look like big hits. And yet, it’s still very early on in the market (“Day 1,” in Amazon lingo). Anything could happen. Google Assistant, a competitor to Amazon’s Alexa, could come from behind and squeeze Amazon out. The almighty Apple is getting ready to barge into the market. It’s even possible that a startup comes out of nowhere to win.
If that happens, don’t be surprised if Bezos simply pulled the cord, killed Alexa, salvaging whatever tech it could for future products, and moved on to the next thing.
I’m not saying that will happen. Just that it could. If Amazon can’t win at voice assistants, it will move on, just as it did in phones. After all, it makes its money from retail.
And that means that Amazon has nothing to lose. If Echo and Alexa dominate, Amazon owns a huge chunk of the future. If they don’t, Amazon is always willing to cut its losses. So in the meantime it can afford to take risks, put Alexa into experimental new devices, no matter how seemingly wacky, and generally try everything and anything to see what sticks.
All of which is to say, I don’t envy Google, or Samsung, or Apple, or any other company that has to compete with Amazon. There’s nothing more dangerous that a competitor will nearly bottomless resources and nothing to lose.