Amazon Echo May be Coming to a Car Near You
There were a number of announcements at CES this year focused on adding voice interaction to cars. Amazon, Google, Nuance and SoundHound had their in-car voice assistants on display. All of these solutions integrated with car infotainment systems. However, Amazon doesn’t seem content to wait for Alexa to be available in new cars. Factor Daily is reporting that Amazon is currently testing Echo devices with a mobile wireless connection in cars in India.
“Amazon is testing a range of its Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers specifically designed to work in cars in a move that could potentially have them replace in-car infotainment systems.”
The article quotes an anonymous Amazon employee as saying:
[The devices are] likely to be launched sometime in June-July…We already have tie-ups with car makers to integrate Alexa into their infotainment systems. But these speakers are different. They pair with your phone and can go on top of your dash.
Bypassing the Long Auto Development Cycle
While Amazon has announced deals with Ford, BMW and Toyota, Alexa will mostly be a feature added to new cars. The same is true for the company’s collaboration with global car infotainment system leader Panasonic. Amazon has a big focus on this segment and its Auto division is even pioneering offline capabilities for Alexa so it works even when wireless connectivity is unavailable. However, these efforts will still take many years before Alexa is widely available in automobiles. A device that drivers can add to their car today would reduce time-to-market and offer Amazon more options than simply waiting for car makers to add the service to new models.
This is particularly important because Android Auto is available today through 400 existing car models and Google Assistant became an added feature earlier this year. Amazon certainly sees this as a disadvantage and an in-car Echo device could help blunt Google’s advantage. The worst case scenario for Amazon is that drivers become accustomed to using Google Assistant in the car and begin to carry those preferences over to home-based use. Amazon already faces this challenge in the mobile device segment due to Google Assistant’s ubiquitous availability on smartphones.
Many Manufacturers Racing Voice Assistants Into Cars
Amazon’s effort to add Alexa to a car as an add-on device would not be a first. Other manufacturers such a Anker and Garmin have created the ROAV and Speak respectively which both offer Alexa connectivity. These solutions leverage connectivity through a user’s smartphone to offer on-the-go access to Alexa. The Speak also includes integration to Garmin’s navigation services. And, there is Spotify. Rumors are circulating that the company will reveal an in-car voice-interactive device later this month at an April 24th event.
Voice assistants are most differentiated in environments that require hands free interactivity. The car is a logical destination and was one of the first spaces that started to offer simple voice interaction. Voice assistants move these interactions well beyond controlling in-car features to accessing a wide range of information, entertainment and communication services. Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are all vying to become the voice assistant of choice in the car.
A Global Roll-out From the Start?
One more interesting angle of this story is that testing is taking place in India. Testing may also be underway in the U.S. and Europe, but the fact that it is also taking place in India suggests that Amazon is likely to roll out the solution globally when it launches. Past product introductions have started in the U.S. first and then were offered in Europe before arriving in other countries. It may be that Amazon plans to roll this product out globally because in-car presence is so critical to the Alexa strategy.