Amazon doesn’t own the smartphone, but Alexa is everywhere that matters

By | 22nd September 2018

No matter who built the phone in your pocket, Amazon has something that works for you — and it's something you'll want.

Amazon is changing the way we look at tech companies. That's a bold statement when you consider how broad the term "tech company" can be, but it's true. Amazon has become just as vital and innovative as Apple, Google, or Microsoft, and it did it without selling you a phone or computer.

I know I'm not the only one who pre-ordered a $60 smart microwave from Amazon.

The latest round of Amazon gadgets is just incredible. The Echo family has been improved, and that should be expected year after year, but the new things they had to show off prove that someone in the company has figured out that Amazon will never make the computer you are using. And that includes the small computers we carry around from Apple and Google's hardware partners. Once that simple truth was said out loud, Amazon went and did the impossible by becoming just as important as any of them.

Do you need a smart microwave? Probably not. Do you want one? There's a good chance you said yes because 1) smart anything is better than dumb anything and 2) it's only $60 like every other cheap microwave you can buy from Amazon. And the microwave part doesn't matter — what's important is how Amazon's tech can be used so easily by companies that build things like microwaves and by people who use things like microwaves.

That's how Amazon is winning in a field that other tech companies aren't even competing in. Google wants your information so it can make billions of dollars. Apple wants you to buy a small set of products so it can make billions of dollars. Amazon just wants you to buy anything and gives you really cool and easy to use ways to get you to buy it.

Apple can do what it does by building products that are luxurious with incredible attention to detail. Don't come at me with your hate-fueled nonsense — iProducts look and feel amazing. Google can do it because the services it offers are so damn good and so damn free if you give away all your data. Everyone uses Gmail. Amazon does it because a $60 microwave makes sure you buy more stuff from Amazon, and it doesn't care if you're buying $5 stuff or $1500 stuff.

Alexa is a gateway drug to a serious Amazon Prime addiction. And most people are happy to get their fix.

Daniel pointed out in episode 398 of the AC podcast that the AmazonBasics Microwave with Alexa really only exists to get you to order more popcorn. He's right — be sure to listen to the whole conversation, but know that the microwave only has Alexa smarts inside so you'll subscribe to Auto Popcorn Replenishment. And this is only the most visible example — every product Amazon showed us at its 2018 event was designed to get you to buy things from Amazon. Once all the gadgets in your house are listening for you to say, Alexa, buying a box of paperclips or new curtains or an Xbox controller from Amazon is easy and you will do it. Maybe not every time, but enough times.

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The idea of Amazon wanting you to buy everything from its online mega-mall is a no-brainer. Of course it does, it's first and foremost a retail operation. But how it's using tech to grow is fascinating. Two Echo Pluses and an Echo Subwoofer are not going to sound as good as the cheapest bookshelf 2.1 system from JVC or Sony or any other audio brand, let alone Sonos. But without hearing it I can guarantee it will sound good enough for a whole lot of people who don't want to spend Sonos money but still want a cool connected stereo system that doesn't sound like total crap. Amazon doesn't need to compete with Sonos and doesn't want to. It's competing with Walmart and slowly winning.

Amazon wants you to buy popcorn from its website. And rubber bands. And phone cases. And everything else.

Amazon is making it too easy to say no. Everything works with everything else, the company is making it easy for anyone to build things that work when you yell something at Alexa, and it's even making it easy for you to program all of the things together to do exactly what you want it to do when you want it to do it with super simple Alexa Skill Blueprints. People like it when doing cool things is easy. they love it when it's also cheap. Amazon is giving us what we want.

Alexa can't replace Google Assistant for me because Amazon doesn't know all my details the way Google does. But Amazon doesn't want to replace my Google Homes or Lenovo Smart Displays (The best product of 2018 by the way. Buy one.). It just wants an Echo or two to sit beside them to do the things that Assistant can't. And it has succeeded because my NVIDIA Shield TV and Apple TV are both connected to a $400 55-inch FireTV that has a picture almost as good as the way-too-expensive LG TV it replaced. And it can order popcorn for me.