Sunday, February 12, 2017


In her introduction to Amazon’s bold new entry into the marketplace of personal assistants, dubbed Alexa, Jenna Wortham surmises that Alexa makes an even more bold statement about the manner in which today’s population consumes in an increasingly instantaneous supply chain. Wortham’s critique in The New York Times Magazine reviews all of the mind-boggling and appealing features that Alexa offers, while placing this innovation in information technology in the context of the overall shifts in the production and delivery of goods and services. Much like other positive disruptions in the marketplace, from mapping technologies to mobile telecommunications and even audio systems, Alexa serves as the first generation of what will likely become an even more advanced method of service delivery.
At a price point at under $200, Alexa and competitors like Google Home manage to transform virtually everything about the consumer experience. Rather than having to visit a bricks and mortar store or even physically going online to purchase food or other vital necessities like dog treats, people can now bark commands to Alexa to secure all of their wants and needs. Unlike websites that merely handle the purchase and delivery of durable goods, Alexa can perform mundane household tasks like turning on lights or playing music from designated playlists. All of this helps to speed up the process on the consumer end. Before Alexa, people wasted precious time performing basic tasks that these digital assistants can to just as well with little cost or fuss. This, in turn, frees consumers to focus their energies on more demanding tasks, ultimately injecting the marketplace with new ideas from individuals who previously would have not even participated.
Not only does Alexa spur people who would have not thought to use technology like online music to become frequent users of apps like Spotify, Pandora, and Shazam, but it induces people to demand instant access to goods and information. Much as previous innovations in technology, Alexa will no doubt soon be usurped by competitors with improvements to the basic idea that Alexa’s technology uses. Originally, digital mapping services used revolutionary new technology embodied in the Garmin. Today, only people’s grandparents still use Garmins to navigate to far off towns. Likewise, mp3 players were a radically new way for people to consume music, until iPods and then iPhones became standard listening devices. The lesson in all of this is that early entries into the marketplace represent critically important innovations, but invariably become targets for competitor’s eager to enhance the design and delivery of the very same good and services.
In her piece, Wortham notes that the entire process of searching will soon shift away from an action to technology that anticipates our needs, perhaps we even realize it. Wortham alludes to the famous marshmallow test used to demonstrate the power of instant gratification. By using technology like Alexa and Google Home, people have already changed the supply and delivery chain. The inevitable next step is an evolution in the very desires of those consumers

Justin Friedlander

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