Only 4 years ago, on November 6th 2014, Alexa saw the light of day. She moved into our homes, became part of millions of families, and changed profoundly how we interact with technology at home: simply by voice. Let’s celebrate Alexa’s birthday and look into the four exciting years of our young smart assistant.
If you are interested in the makings and background articles, please see: Amazon Alexa’s Biography.
2014: Introducing the Amazon Echo
The original commercial of the first generation Amazon Echo – I won’t link to it, since Amazon removed it officially – showcased how Alexa becomes part of a family with 2 kids. It highlighted features like music playback, setting timers and alarms, answering questions, listening to news and jokes and managing your shopping- and todo-lists.
As with almost every new technology, some people perceived the introduction initially as “awkward” and started to create parodies, which I also will not link to, due to their explicit language.
However, you will recognize the many use cases, which are also featured in todays commercials for the smart speaker, but one was originally missing: smart home control.
2015: Alexas First Year, the Amazon Echo
It took Amazon until the end of Alexas first year to realize, that smart home control is an important use case and a great fit for Alexa. Voice control is just so much easier, than to pull out a smart phone, open an app and search for the button to tap on, to control a smart home device.
The interest of many smart home device manufacturers to integrate with Amazon Alexa, and Amazons dedication to make it as easy as possible to integrate, laid the foundation to Amazons upcoming success as smart speaker market leader.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Apple was still focussing on making it very hard for manufacturers to integrate their HomeKit for Siri and Google started to realize that the smart speaker market might be something they would also like to enter, maybe later, next year.
2016 – The First Echo Dot
In March 2016, Amazon released a smaller smart speaker device, the first generation of the Echo Dot. A brilliant move, since a smaller, more affordable device will more easily spread into all the different rooms of our homes.
A small speaker does not sound that great and so they provided an option to connect the little Dot either with a cable or via bluetooth to an existing speaker.
In September 2016, Alexa launched in the UK, and in October 2016 in Germany.
2017 – Cameras and Displays: Look, Show, Spot
In February 2017, Amazon released the battery powered Amazon Tap, so you can take Alexa with you, just like any battery powered bluetooth speaker.
April 2017 brought us the Echo Look, the first Alexa powered smart camera, positioned as your fashion consultant, who can take videos of you, keep a database of what’s in your closet and recommend what fits together. In case you are wondering, if this was an April Fools joke, no, PetLexa was one …
The first generation Echo with camera and display was released in May 2017: the Amazon Echo Show. Alexa can now display additional information on her screen.
September 2017 brought us the second generation of the Amazon Echo with a smaller size, better sound and different styles to fit our interior. Also, the first Amazon Echo Plus was released, which integrates a smart home hub (ZigBee) to directly control your smart devices which support this protocol. Last but not least, a smaller device with cam and display was released back then, the Echo Spot.
In October 2017 Alexa launched in India, November 2017 in Japan and December in: Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlends, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden and Uruguay.
2018 – The Big Surprise Event: New Devices and More …
In January 2018, Alexa arrived in Ireland and in February 2018 in Australia, New Zealand and France.
Apart of new features, which are continuously updated through the cloud and app, September 2018 brought us a surprise event with many hardware announcements (watch our clip for a quick walkthrough by Alexa herself =):
- Echo Auto, Amazons first device to bring Alexa into our cars.
- The third generation Echo Dot, with better sound and new design.
- The second-generation Echo Show, which also received a facelift, a bigger screen, a home hub and better speakers. It integrates a browser, so we can watch YouTube and it supports Skype.
- The second-generation Echo Plus with better speakers and more compact design. It will support local voice recognition, so we can control our smart home devices even when the internet is down and has a built-in temperature sensor, which we can use to trigger smart home routines.
- The new Amazon Smart Plug, which makes smart home setups easy to configure.
- The Echo Input, without speaker, connecting to our existing speakers at home.
- As well as following new devices without microphones, which work together with our existing Amazon Echos:
- The Echo Sub, a 100 Watt stereo sub-woofer, which connects with up to two Amazon Echos to create a 2.1 audio setup.
- The Echo Link and Amazon Echo Link Amp, which connects to our existing stereos or speakers.
- The FireTV Recast, which records and broadcasts over the air TV shows to our Echo Show, Spot, Fire TV or smart phone.
- And last but not least two devices for our kitchens: the AmazonBasics microwave and the Amazon Echo Wall Clock. The microwave offers a ‘Ask Alexa’ button, which lets an Amazon Echo set the right time for cooking, by just saying what you are putting in. The Clock will display multiple timers, so we won’t need to ask for the remaining time.
Apart of the hardware announcements, many new software features are coming:
- Alexa’s new Guard feature will monitor our homes, while we are away. We will receive notifications if certain sounds, like breaking glass or an alarm are heard and will be able to forward the alerts to our security provider. Alexa, will also be able to mimic with our smart lights, that we are at home to deter potential intruders.
- The new Hunch feature, will learn from our smart home preferences and for instance remind us to lock our doors in case we forgot when going to bed.
- Alexa supports a new Whisper mode, where in case we whisper, she’ll whisper back.
- For a full feature list, please check out Amazons blog post: Alexa is Now Even Smarter—New Features Help Make Everyday Life More Convenient, Safe, and Entertaining.
Last, but not least Amazon released the Alexa Connect Kit, to enable hardware manufacturers to easily integrate Alexa into their devices, without having to care about Alexas cloud technology.
October 2018 brought Alexa to Italy and Spain.
Let’s Summarize …
If we look at the many devices and features released in such a short time-span, it becomes obvious that Alexa is one of Amazons favourite children.
Though we have seen many countries listed, where Alexa (Amazon Echos) can be purchased, currently “only”:
- English (AU, CA, IN, UK, US),
- French (CA, FR),
- German (DE),
- Italian (IT),
- Japanese (JP) and
- Spanish (ES, MX) are supported.
For most of the other countries the language defaults to English US.
Amazon supports currently 18 universities through their Alexa Fund Fellowship Program in the areas of machine learning, speech science and conversational AI.
Amazon continuously updates features for kids, especially through their recent FreeTime Unlimited program, with kid specific routines, podcasts and activity skills.
There are already over 20,000 Alexa compatible devices available in the market. Like:
- Alexa and Philips Hue: Setup, Review and Voice Commands
- Logitech Harmony and Alexa: Setup, Voice Commands and a Candlelight Dinner or
- Alexa and Nanoleaf Aurora: Setup and Voice Commands
And yes, we completely forgot to mention the Alexa Skills, which have grown throughout the four years to the incredible amount of 50,000 world-wide, backed by hundreds of thousands developers in 180 countries.
Dear Alexa, with all these impressive achievements, we can only wish you:
- Happy Birthday!
- Bon anniversaire!
- Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
- Buon compleanno!
- Feliz cumpleaños!
Though it seems, that Google is recently closing the gap in the smart speaker market and Siri still rules the mobile assistant market, still, you are the one who started the voice revolution at home, with all these exciting developments.
P.S. With Alexa’s main use case of listening to music, make sure to look-up all of her music voice commands here: Alexa, Play Some Music: All The Music Voice Commands.