Amazon (AMZN) is making its play for the future of computing and it is full of adorable connected robots, video picture frames, portable interactive projection devices and subscriptions, notes tech sector expert Jon Markman, editor of Strategic Advantage.
Executives at the Seattle, Wash.-based company have revealed a slew of new computing devices. Not a single one of them had a keyboard. Most didn’t seem like computers at all. Welcome to ambient computing, Amazon’s next big business vertical.
Most people don’t think of Amazon as a computer company, although a big part of its profits come from Amazon Web Services, its giant cloud computing platform. Since 2006 AWS has been the biggest player in cloud computing, selling data processing, digital storage and IT services to most of the biggest corporations in the world.
The value proposition from the beginning is it’s cheaper for corporations to run all of their workflows remotely at AWS rather than building out data proprietary centers and paying scads of IT staff to physically monitor servers and switches.
The business started from nothing. Today it is on a $59 billion annual revenue run rate, growing at almost 32% per year. Amazon’s ambient computing ambitions are built along the same guidelines.
Executives imagine living rooms full of connected smart devices running computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence on the AWS backbone. Robots will seamlessly interact with humans, serving up mom’s calendar as she strolls by, or bringing dad a cold beverage as he watches the game.
It will be computers taking care of the small stuff in the background without user input, provided users pay a monthly subscription. It all seems a bit far-fetched. Even getting Siri to set a calendar event can be a chore.
Amazon’s strength is its ecosystem. Alexa, its digital assistant, is by far the most popular in the world because most the software needed to build Alexa-enabled code is mostly open source. Third party software developers have written more than 100,000 Alexa skills.
These bits of code help consumers do everything from control lights, appliances, smart locks and security systems to play interactive trivia games. The devices that have just been announced build on Alexa and that strong ecosystem.
Astro is a diminutive 3-wheel robot with a tablet-like face and a periscope camera system that extends out of the back of the screen. The cute little device is meant for videoconferencing, a home watchdog and an assisted living companion. Astro can be commanded remotely by smartphone so it’s perfect for trundling around the house to check on weird alerts. When finished, the robot returns autonomously to its charging port.
Show 15 takes its name from a family of Amazon Show videoconferencing and otherwise smart devices. The trick with Show 15 is computer vision and a 15-inch form factor that hangs on the wall. This means it will use its facial recognition software to recognize family members, then show personalized content as they approach.
Amazon Glow is aimed at kids and grandparents, or parents that are out of the home. It combines a portrait mode, high resolution 18-inch screen, a camera, and a pico projector. Glow can project an interactive map in front of the display that is also touch sensitive. Kids can play board games and do puzzles while interacting with grandma, who can play along remotely in real-time on her tablet.
All of these devices, and the other products Amazon announced Tuesday are ambient. There are no settings to change. The computing simply happens all around the user. Amazon plans to monetize most of these services by selling inexpensive monthly subscriptions. The simplicity is appealing. It’s easy to imagine this will be a really big category in the future.
The reason Amazon is likely to win the lion’s share is none of this is easy to do. It requires a big cloud operation like AWS, legions of enthusiastic developers and large installed base to get started.
Amazon has 200 million Prime members. These customers are used to paying annual subscriptions for priority shipping, streaming media and early access to planned sales. They are also early adopters. Ambient computing is what’s next.