Voice search is one of the hottest topics in hyperlocal media. While tech giants including Google, Samsung, and Microsoft are looking for a piece of the voice-search pie, Amazon has emerged as the market frontrunner, racking up big sales with its Echo speakers powered by its personal assistant technology, Alexa. Pundits say voice search is poised to make a big impact on local as it transforms the way consumers search for local services and products.
Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist for Echo and Alexa at Amazon, sat down with Street Fight COO and co-founder David Hirschman at Street Fight Summit on Wednesday to discuss Amazon’s voice strategy and the implications of voice-search technology for local businesses.
Isbitski has been with Echo and Alexa since the products were launched and currently works as an “educator and connector” for the product, helping others understand one of Amazon’s hottest product lines.
“Voice fundamentally improves the way that we interact with technology,” Isbitski said. “It doesn’t replace mobile or web, but there’s this expectation that it should be there.”
Isbitski does not view voice as a replacement for older user interfaces so much as a natural improvement and added consumer convenience naturally emerging from improvements in technology.
“What’s happened over time through mobile, because of the cloud and advances in machine learning [and] deep neural networks, a machine can understand you now,” he said.
While the Echo is a product that can be purchased from Amazon, Alexa is a free and open technology. Developers can teach Alexa new skills, of which there are currently over 13,000.
Recently, new skills have grabbed headlines for reshaping the way consumers connect with local goods and services. Echo users can now get local news updates through Patch, order food from local restaurants through GrubHub, and book movie tickets at nearby theaters via Fandango.
With access to local businesses coming through a new channel, SMBs and brands have a new form of search rankings to worry about. Alexa ranks skills via reviews supplied by customers directly on Amazon as well as data on how often skills are installed and used, Isbitski said. For example, an Echo user could ask Alexa to tell her which grocery stores within a given distance have rankings of four stars or higher.
When it comes to the benefits of voice search versus mobile, “utility flips on its head,” Isbitski said. A visual interface will continue to outdo voice in convenience for certain sorts of searches. If customers do not know what they want, for example, a visual display of the options can come in handy. On the other hand, voice is ideal for precise searches for which the consumer can request exactly what he or she wants.
In the future, consumers can expect to hear Alexa beyond the home, where the Echo is primarily meant to reside. Automotive companies such as Ford have already begun to deploy the technology to improve driver experiences. Consumers can also look into newer Alexa-powered products such as Echo Look, which has a camera and is connected to the Amazon fashion service.
Joe Zappa is Street Fight’s news editor. Photography by Shana Wittenwyler.