"The real center of the smart house, I do not think we should debate this, but what opens up everything is voice."
Daniel Rausch, Vice President Smart Home at Amazon, is confident that he spoke to Techradar for his recent big keynote at IFA 2018. Rausch has been chosen by Europe's major technical show to talk about everything that smart home is and it is something that Amazon knows everything about.
Since the arrival of Alexa – Amazon's voice assistant – we have seen that the houses are changing from stupid to smart, at low cost, to the point where some 50 million people have access to voice control (regardless of your OS preference) in the US.
This happened in just three years and change years, according to Rausch, who remembered not so long ago when the smart house was very different.
"The so-called smart house was a segment that started for decades, starting with the X10 since the 1980s [home automation protocol]"Notes Rausch.
"More recently, for the simplicity of voice operation, it was your phone, but that turned out to be only one person in the house.
"You should unlock your phone, go through the clutter of apps, find the right one, open it, find the right device, and then turn on the light, you could have just walked through the room and tap the switch.
"It was not easy for customers," he admits. "The change in the simplicity of voice control with Alexa means faster adoption speed because it's actually simpler, it's the same for the whole heterogeneous range of devices and it's just that simple, that's the key pivot the smart home has unlocked."
20,000 Alexa products
That number of devices has increased enormously in the past year. According to Rausch, more than 50 products have been announced at IFA – either with Alexa built-in (Alexa products) or with Alexa products – and the versatile spread was significant. There were Alexa-integrated PCs, lights, refrigerators … and even some speakers.
"It took us three years to reach 4000 Alexa-compatible devices," Rausch said. "In the past nine months that number has gone from 9,000 to 20,000."
The enormous amount of new product has led Amazon to have a robust system to get manufacturers on board, and fast.
"We have created software development kits, hardware development kits, microphone arrays, various options for supply chain partners, ODMs, different levels in the supply chain," reveals Rausch.
"There is as much effort to make it easier for Alexa to check products.
"We have technology such as our smart home APIs that enable Alexa to use many products for our customers, which is also a huge growth."
The speed from concept to product was recently emphasized and the fruits of this were exhibited at IFA.
"There is a great story about an Anchor product that was accelerated to seven months [Anker announced a number of Alexa-integrated devices at IFA 2018]. That is from the first concept, the first phone call, to being available to the market.
"We have built up a lot of technology to make it easier for companies to integrate it into the product."
Rausch makes a good point, but Alexa's mass consumption has encouraged many people to question the security implications of this and whether the voting technology works perfectly for any device – especially those where Alexa is not ingrained. (Last year's Amazon speaker hack is a great example.)
Language no barrier
This speed of release and the breadth of products is something that Amazon's biggest rival in the speech room, Google, also pushes right now.
IFA chose to announce that the Google assistant is now bilingual and understands two languages at the same time without switching between these languages in the institutions.
Although this specific function is not yet available via Alexa, Rausch wanted to explain how much work Amazon does in this space.
"Alexa has been around for a while", "says Rausch. "Customers can choose a language – we have all the different dialects of English, German, French … we have announced that it is Spanish and Italian, stay informed for more – we are not here to speculate about future functions, but we love to see the product in all these places. "
Having Alexa in all these places brings us to the question: where do Amazon and – more pertinently Alexa – go?
"The sky's the limit – your vacuum cleaner, door, security system, your lawn." Everything you can imagine at home. "You'll also see that Alexa will just be embedded in more devices and that customers will stop talking to you. a device as such, it will be more about speaking in general. "
It is already on the way, also outside the house. There is Alexa in the car (Ford, Toyota, SEAT have all made announcements), Alexa has hospitality, where in certain hotels guests can get room service and towels through Alexa.
Alexa for business is looking to eliminate old voice calling systems – more than 700 of these are already being used in Amazon's own conference rooms.
"We knew immediately, from the reaction, that customers wanted to get in touch with Alexa everywhere," says Rausch. "We knew early on that we wanted every developer to use Alexa and that Alexa could do everything, so we built the skill kits and APIs so that developers could expand their capabilities.
"We will soon not only talk about the smart house, but a world of smarts."