blog

A New Hope for IoT Control: Why Alexa Stole the Show at CES

  • 04.21.17
  • ::
  • By Matt Smith

voice-commands-web

 

This is my fourth post in our ongoing series aimed at helping you navigate through the deluge of IoT information and identify which technology choices will have the biggest positive impact on your upcoming product plans.

In previous posts, we organized the many IoT protocols, we talked about why having a gateway is critical, and we answered which protocol stacks are the best choice for today’s control systems.

Now it’s time to talk about one of the hottest trends in IoT: voice control — starting with the impact Amazon Echo and Alexa are having on the industry.

VOICE CONTROL INVADES THE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW

Back in January, when I walked the Connected Home area of CES 2017, it seemed as if nearly every product shown was either working with Amazon Echo and Alexa, or would be very soon.

In case you’re not familiar, the Echo/Alexa combination allows you to control devices and take actions with your voice. When you talk to Echo, you start commands with the keyword “Alexa” to let the device know that you’re talking to it, er, I mean her.

As I went from booth to booth, it became very clear that voice is the new “it” feature for IoT control. It’s exciting, it’s easy, and nearly everyone can use it.

And, it turns out that voice is a great interface that solves many of the most common User Interface (UI) problems (unless you are Scottish and in an elevator https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FFRoYhTJQQ — yes that was a joke).

As a result, Alexa is seemingly everywhere. She even has her own Super Bowl commercial (and it was a good one).

Other products have voice control too, of course, but none of them appear to be gaining momentum as quickly as the Echo and Alexa.

I think one of the biggest reasons is that many of those other products are not as easy to use as the Echo/Alexa combination, not just by end-users, but by the engineers of other products.

HIGH-QUALITY, EASY-TO-USE APIs MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Make it easy for engineers to use your product and they will. Engineers like to build things, create things, bring ideas to life. That’s what we do. Don’t box us in. Don’t make the product not work because of too many license fees. Don’t hide stuff and make it a pain to use.

Amazon Echo abides by all of these rules. I know first-hand that it’s a joy to integrate with.

So how did Amazon accomplish this? Amazon Echo is, first off, a well-designed product. But, equally as important, it is designed around good, easy-to-understand Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

An API is the language that one product (like a smart light bulb) uses to “talk” to another product (like Amazon Echo).

There are some good APIs and many not-so-good ones. Good ones are easy to use and understand, and consistently function as promised, so engineers can quickly start using them with no negative surprises.

Further, a good API incorporates what’s currently “in style” for the engineering community, increasing the chances that most engineers will find it familiar and intuitive when creating their first integrations.

The Echo APIs are very good, and the Amazon team clearly wants to help you with them. They regularly post tips and videos online to help solve problems. Well-written and well-supported programming interfaces? Yes, please.

THE IMPACT OF METCALFE’S LAW

>Metcalfe’s Law is relevant to any IoT technology adoption rates, but especially to something as new as voice.

It states that the value of the network goes up exponentially as more things join the network. The “things” attached to the network can be products — but, they can also be the users of those products.

While network value is often hard to define, we know that one concrete outcome of Metcalfe’s Law is that a person is more likely to adopt a network technology (for example, a smart phone app) once most of their friends are using it.

Echo and Alexa are excellent examples of this.

Only a short time ago, Echo was new with few integrations. Now, there are more than 10,000. How did the Echo get here? Most importantly, Alexa works surprisingly well, “right out of the box.” People who buy it, love it, and talk to their friends about it.

Combine that fantastic user experience with the high-quality, easy-to-use APIs I outlined above, and you have the recipe for fast-building momentum. Now, nearly every IoT engineering team I talk to is already planning their own Echo/Alexa integrations, or looking for a partner to help them do it.

MOMENTUM: A BODY IN MOTION TENDS TO PICK UP SPEED

People started talking about Echo, and then their friends picked it up. Products started to integrate with it, with great success.

With momentum clearly building, we began integrating our Cortet products with Echo, and had fast, early success using Alexa voice commands for device control.

First, in only a few days, we had Alexa turning on a Light Saber by sending a command to a Cortet gateway (via a cloud-to-cloud integration) — resulting in just the kind of “killer demo” we were looking for.

One of our engineers, Dave (named after HAL’s friend from 2001) started looking into how hard it would be to work with Echo/Alexa at scale, on a commercial product line. He came back a short time later with a working proof-of-concept!

This was good news, so we kept going. We made more progress, momentum continued to increase, and our great demo soon evolved into an official Cortet Echo/Alexa Skill

So, it’s really a simple story: great APIs, combined with an easy to use product, that works well all the time, is the key to success (especially in IoT).

We put a lot of focus on the APIs here at CEL. This interface for integration is talked about and held to a very high standard. If the effort here is ever questioned, we simply look to the Amazon Echo as an important example for our team of why this must be done right.

IT’S THE INTERNET OF THINGS

We call it the “Internet of Things,” emphasis on the “Things.” So why is the “thing” so often forgotten in network architecture? In my next post, I will talk about how we too often have “things” backwards when it comes to IoT design.

up next

A Tale of Two Protocol Stacks: Our Picks for Optimal IoT Control

  • Matt Smith
  • ::
  • 04.11.17

Why Now? The Smart Lighting Control Opportunity for Luminaire and Lamp OEMs

  • Erik Davidson
  • ::
  • 05.08.17

subscribe