Seattle-based Amazon, which has competed in the technology space with web services, payments, and devices alongside its main shopping portal for years, is adding hundreds of engineers to the Alexa program, prioritising its personnel over other departments, a source close to the development told the Wall Street Journal.
As added evidence that the company is rallying its resources in support of the Alexa voice assistant, the Journal notes that the move of Tom Taylor into the program’s leadership suggests Amazon’s intention to grow the division in a similar way to Taylor’s past high-growth successes.
Meanwhile, further down America’s western coast, Apple has put top software engineer Craig Federighi in charge of its Siri product. The technology has been available on Apple devices since 2011, when the iPhone 4S was unveiled. More recently, Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker will feature Siri front and centre, in an apparent challenge to Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo device.
AI-powered voice assistants are fast gaining popularity. A UK study in May found that household penetration of Alexa could reach up to 40% by early 2018, though barriers such as data protection continue in consumers’ minds.
Yet globally, IHS Markit (quoted by the WSJ) forecasts that by the end of this year over four billion consumer devices will have some sort of digital assistant embedded.
Both companies draw on vast wells of user data, each with different strengths. Apple’s hardware, which spans phones to watches, feeds back user data which is used to train Siri. Amazon, a later entrant into the hardware space, takes data from its retail website, giving it an edge for shopping tasks.
“This whole area around voice is getting super competitive and it’s important Apple steps up their game,” Gene Munster, head of research with Loup Ventures told the Journal. Though he also warned that Amazon is still vulnerable to other competitors.
“If I am the person who is in charge of the Echo, I would be concerned about the war chest of data that Google has to make this experience better,” he said.
Data sourced from the Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia, WARC; additional content by WARC staff