Opportunity for startups: Amazon and Google Consider Turning Smart Speakers Into Home Phones

Adoption of voice recognition and voice activated technologies have been advancing at a fast pace and some researchers suggest that Voice Activated UI technologies could be the holy grail of intuitive User Interface.

Voice based applications in the corporate world are making great strides. Widespread adoption of Interactive voice response (IVR) in corporate applications at call centers and CRM based solutions is beginning to enhance productivity by allowing computers to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF tone input via keypad. IVR systems can respond with prerecorded or dynamically generated audio to direct users on how to proceed. This greatly improves productivity of humans, especially in inbound and outbound call-centers.

A recent Wall Street Journal article indicates that Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and other smart devices could be used to make or receive calls. This is a big leap for Voice technologies in the consumer segment and pushes the envelope on the capabilities that consumers are beginning to expect, and want from their smart devices.  The article WSJ adds:

Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are considering a new use for their popular home speakers: becoming the home phone.

Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home could be used to make or receive calls, people familiar with the matter said, a functionality that would give them further control over consumers’ digital lives at home.

The tech giants could launch the feature this year, the people said—but the effort is hung up over concerns about privacy, telecom regulations and emergency services. And they are aware of the inherent awkwardness of having phone conversations on a speaker.

Image: CNNMoney


The millennial generation that grew up with smartphones, Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana may not think of this as a big deal. However, the move by Amazon’s Echo, Google Home into the business of calling and phones crosses a line in the sand that many tech analysts are closely watching. This has implication in a few key areas

  • Traditional phone companies including AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications and others may see a further shift away from their landline business if consumers – and other corporate customers – begin using Echo, Google Home etc. instead of traditional phones.
  • There are concerns of privacy of calls since the devices are inherently capable of recording everything. (would consumers and corporate users want everything to be recorded on the cloud?) “We’re headed to a world of embedded sensors in everything, that measure everything, that see everything, that hear everything,” says Albert Gidari, director for privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. “The reality is that technology…kind of blurs law for privacy.”
  • Other regulations like 911 calling requirements may be a deal breaker. Generations of consumers have come to expect an emergency response using 911 on their phones. According to WSJ “Most internet calling services, such as Skype, don’t allow for U.S. 911 calls. They get around a federal law requiring all two-way calling services to reach 911 by offering inbound and outbound voice service separately.”
  • Another dimension to privacy is the legal requirement for phone service providers to allow for legal wiretapping by law-enforcement agencies. It is unclear how Echo or Google Home calling would enable this feature. WSJ adds “App-to-app internet calls from services like Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Apple Inc.’s FaceTime are immune to the law, as is Skype. Whether it would apply to phone calls made on the Echo or Google Home is unclear.”

Many of these issues are bound to be addressed by Amazon, Google and others, especially if the consumer reaction to the devices is positive.

Opportunity for entrepreneurs and startups: It is unclear if Amazon and Google plans to develop the calling tool themselves, or they  plan to integrate external providers such as Skype or Vonage with their platforms. Either way, this move by Amazon and Google also spells opportunities for startups in working on voice technologies.


Other articles on the topic:

  • Alexa, call mom: Amazon and Google want to add voice calls to digital assistants (digitaltrends)
  • Amazon Echo and Google Home want to be your new house phone (Endgadget)
  • Voice calls may be coming to the Amazon Echo and Google Home (The Verge)
  • Huawei Is Developing Its Own Voice Assistant for Smartphones (bloomberg)
  • Battle of the smart speakers: Google Home vs. Amazon Echo (CNN Money)
  • Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Which smart speaker will win the battle for your living room? – As Google unveils its new smart speaker, Google Home, we take a look at how it stacks up against its number one rival, Amazon Echo (Mirror UK)
  • Google Home Review- Everything You Need To Know About! (bloomtimes)

You may also be interested in our feature on “Top 25 Digital Startup ideas and technologies for 2017”

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