Alexa, Amazon’s AI-powered home voice assistant, has arrived in Canada – just in time for the holidays! The release of the Alexa-enabled Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus smart home assistants has been long-awaited by Canadian consumers, while their U.S. neighbors have enjoyed two generations of Echo technology since it was unveiled in 2014. That is, until now! Amazon began accepting pre-orders on November 8, and Canadians can find Alexa in-store as of December 5. Alexa comes tailored to the market, complete with a “Canadian” accent, the ability to recognize Canadian addresses and more than 10,000 new skills for Canadian brands. With skills, or voice commands, at the heart of Alexa’s functionality, entry into the Canadian market also kicks-off a skills race for the corporate world.
Reminiscent of the race to secure domain names in the ‘80s and ‘90s, early adopters will reap the benefits and those that lag—well, they will feel the pain for years to come. Canadian brands from a variety of industries have already snatched-up Alexa skills. Bank of Montreal and TD Canada Trust have both launched skills that provide directions to nearby ATM locations, current exchange rates and bank product information. Notably, both organizations’ skills currently lack the user-centric functionality enabled by their U.S. counterpart Capital One, whose Alexa skills allow users to check up-to-the-minute account balances and payment due dates. Insurance provider Manulife, however, announced a Benefits skill within days of Alexa’s release into the Canadian market, which seems to hit the mark in terms of providing the practical functionality their customers need, including the ability to track vision, dental and health benefits.
Alexa is already a member of some Canadian households, but only for a few tenacious consumers who procured devices from U.S. retailers and set-up U.S.-based Amazon accounts to skirt the red tape. Google Home also made its Canadian market debut in 2017. For the first time, Canadians have a choice when it comes to smart home devices. But how will they make the choice? Undoubtedly, it will be a level of humanity–features like human voice, personalized messaging and functionality that ultimately, makes users’ lives easier–that will determine which AI-assistant technology wins out.
As 2017 comes to a close, it’s clear we are on the cusp of a new normal: an era where filling-out paperwork or waiting on 1-800 lines is long over. Perhaps even more difficult to comprehend is the notion that app functionality as we know it has also passed us by. Streaming music, accessing the news, ordering take-out and managing smart home devices are among the simple tasks users already feel comfortable enabling through voice activation. A Stone Temple survey this year shows that 63% of respondents are comfortable accessing personal assistants through voice command, so the opportunity to execute even more confidential tasks is endless. Users can access sensitive information directly and securely via Alexa, and as they become more comfortable utilizing home voice assistants without the need to log into an app, it’s inevitable that consumers will come to expect this functionality from their smart phones as well. As AI-assistants gain traction with consumers, our needs will dictate how the technology will evolve and how a brand will subsequently adapt their skill offerings to keep up—or get left behind.
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