Amazon Echo Show and the race to make homes machines

The reviews are still to come but, based on spec, pictures, current products and a rather compelling promotional video, Amazon looks to have manoeuvred itself into a strong position in the race to control homes with the imminent release of the Echo Show. The Echo Show is a superset of the existing Echo voice-controlled speaker with a seven-inch screen for Wi-Fi video calling.

The Echo is the early leader in voice-controlled assistant devices with over two-thirds of the market, according to eMarketer. I called the Echo a speaker but with Echo Show Amazon is really entering another jungle and one that’s densely forested with competitors even if products are striplings rather than great oaks*. That screen is good for Wi-Fi video calling and messaging but it can also be a surveillance camera, baby monitor or open sesame to the wonders of the emerging Internet of Things and companion devices and services. This is the home hub space that will help shape which of the current behemoths – Google, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon – becomes the go-to provider of master switches for our digitised living spaces: security, lights, heating, communications, media, alerts, organisers, music, shopping, games, video...

This will be a vastly lucrative and important space that will likely affect our choice of TVs, phones, tablets, PCs and other devices, but nobody knows which way the sector is heading. For example, perhaps the most ubiquitous device adults use today in the west is the smartphone: could home hubs become extensions of the smartphone? What is the right format for a home hub? Should it have multiple forms of user input with voice being supplemented by touch, pen or gesture? Who will most successfully knit together the components of the digital home and how will they avoid consumer and regulatory concerns over privacy? Could a GE, a Samsung or other electronics player come in and reinvent and reimagine the sector?

Who knows, but it’s a dead cert that the giants of consumer tech will go all out to create families of modules that together bring us the chance to remotely control everything that happens in our apartments and houses. The makers of best-in-class smart HVAC monitors, smoke detectors, door-entry systems, observation cameras, air-quality controllers, weather indicators, plant watering systems and the like will be able to ask pretty prices akin to the fat premium Nest and Dropcam got when Google came calling. R&D will be doubled down upon again and again and swarms of engineers will be called on to integrate these systems to work under one console.

The architect Le Corbusier said: “Une maison est une machine-à-habiter. (“A house is a machine for living in”). Today, in a market that is only just beginning to take early, protean shape, that machine is becoming automated.


*A slightly tedious and far-fetched metaphor that I couldn’t extricate myself from, such were the thickets.


Also read:
Lessons from Google buying Nest
Netatmo finds smart homes niche


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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