The introduction of Amazon Echo Plus gives smart-home manufacturers some new things to think about.
The Echo Plus is a cool new offering from Amazon, essentially updating the existing capability of an Amazon Echo with the addition of a Zigbee radio so that the device can act like a smart-home gateway. So how should smart-home manufacturers think of the Echo Plus, and how should it influence their product plans?
To answer these questions, let’s look at the primary considerations for IoT manufacturers selling into the consumer market. There are essentially four driving factors:
1. Great Consumer Experience
Voice has emerged as a new user interface for the connected home, greatly improving the user’s experience. Amazon enables this experience, as do Google, Apple, and other leaders in the space. A great user experience will also increasingly include connected products that work with the broader ecosystem of connected devices, apps, and services out there.
2. Leverage Data
Manufacturers leverage their IoT data to learn from real-world customer usage, improve the customer experience, and drive operational efficiencies. Tesla is a great example, demonstrating how connectivity and data can be used to differentiate in the auto market. They keep improving the product experience, making their cars safer, faster, and easier to maintain.
In addition to supporting today’s experiences, new user interfaces will emerge (likely driven by proximity and predictive technology), so it’s important for manufacturers selling into the consumer space to design products that are able to evolve with the market.
Manufacturers have the obvious important goal of making sure that the features and cost of their product fit the market need.
How Amazon Echo Plus Affects Manufacturers' Main Driving Factors
Based on these goals, let’s see how the Amazon Echo Plus helps manufacturers and what it takes to realize these advantages.
1. Great Consumer Experience
There is no doubt that the Echo is a great product, as is Alexa. As explained above, manufacturers really need to build products that can work with all leading voice assistants. This is typically done through a cloud connection to the voice assistant cloud. In the case of the Echo Plus, there is an additional Zigbee radio. Zigbee isn’t required to work with the Echo Plus, but having it does add a new capability for voice-enabled onboarding and eventually, one imagines, for other interesting features. However, onboarding a smart-home product via the Echo Plus does not provide the ability to control devices from the manufacturer’s branded mobile app. As the Philips Hue integration shows, users still need the Philips hub and mobile app to use any differentiating features that the Hue light bulbs enable, such as setting natural sleep routines or specific colors. So while the Echo Plus does provide a better onboarding experience, it also reduces the ability to provide a differentiated consumer experience.
2. Leverage Data
The Echo Plus doesn’t do anything to help manufacturers better leverage their data. To improve support, predict failures, and enable differentiating use cases such as consumable replenishment and energy management, product manufacturers need to have an IoT cloud strategy.
Supporting the Echo Plus by including a Zigbee radio actually reduces a manufacturer’s flexibility because it means updating the hardware for one specific ecosystem. To maintain flexibility—including being compatible with other voice assistants and future user interfaces—a manufacturer should leverage an IoT platform and IoT cloud for these integrations.
Including a Zigbee radio certainly increases cost for a product. The key tradeoff decision for a manufacturer is whether the additional perceived features and benefits as a result of connecting to the Echo Plus are compelling enough to warrant this cost and complexity.
Putting it All Together...
Amazon, Google, Apple, and other consumer-facing companies will continue to innovate in the smart home, especially in the realm of voice assistants. Manufacturers have to design products that are flexible enough to respond to new consumer needs and interactions as they arise in the future.
The cloud provides a fast and low-cost way for manufacturers to integrate their smart-home products with other smart-home devices, apps, and services. In the case of Echo Plus, manufacturers need to decide if adding a Zigbee radio to their design meets their product goals strongly enough to justify this additional cost and complexity.