Nov 29, 2019

Software eats hardware with Alexa’s latest expansion

Amazon bites when software eats hardware

AWS is expanding its Alexa Voice Service to let manufacturers add Alexa capabilities to low-powered devices with as low as 1MB of RAM. Up until now, devices needed 100x times that amount of memory to run Alexa.

With the latest update, everything from lightbulbs to thermostats can integrate Amazon’s smart voice assistant.

Amazon is able to bring Alexa to less powerful devices by pushing more computations toward the cloud, away from local devices. Efficient devices only need to recognize wake words, as most data can be piped directly to the cloud. Applications can then run analyses and send back responses.

Alexa’s IoT expansion affects developers in two major ways.

First, Alexa becomes a universal platform that can attract more users with more devices. When developers know that more users can access their products, Amazon draws more developers into its Alexa ecosystem.

Amazon unleashes what is known as cyclonic effects. With more developers building on its platform, Alexa attracts more users. More users encourage more Alexa-enabled devices, and so on.

Amazon Alexa cyclonic effects

Microsoft used a similar playbook to drive the growth of Windows. Microsoft supplied the operating system that created positive feedback loops between developers, computer manufacturers, and users.

Second, Amazon’s move suggests that software is eating hardware.

Manufacturers of Alexa devices could find it more cost effective and developer-friendly to focus more on building powerful cloud-based software and worrying less about designing hardware. Moreover, companies can take advantage of the cloud's limitless computing power, allowing them to develop new product versions without needing to upgrade any hardware.

In Amazon's world, IoT companies spend less time and fewer resources on hardware and more on IoT app development. In short, less hardware and more developers.

Alexa is still a young, growing platform with an uncertain future. Pulling it closer to the successful AWS cloud could give Amazon an edge as the IoT market matures.

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