Amazon released its Echo Show 5 last week and we had the opportunity to meet with Dennis Stansbury, Amazon’s UK head of Alexa experience and devices during the UK Echo Show 5 launch.
We asked him about the privacy features of the new device and whether it was a reaction to users’ increased concerns about how their data and images are used. “I think we always take privacy as paramount in every device we put out,” says Stansbury.
“We’ve taken it very seriously since the beginning. We continue to try to offer new functionality for privacy, whether it’s the camera shutter or the ability to delete utterances through voice. And we’ll continue to evaluate that. And you can go online to the Privacy Hub to see all our privacy information.”
“We want to give customers choices over this, you can always press the button on the top which disables the microphone and camera – disconnecting power from them – and then if you just want to interact with voice you can use the camera shutter.”
Future Echo devices
Stansbury wouldn’t be drawn on whether the shutter will roll out to future Echo devices, simply saying “we don’t comment on the future roadmap, we’ll take into consideration what customers want per device and we’ll evaluate it device-by-device”, but it seems clear to us that Amazon will roll out more privacy features if consumers demand them.
We also asked Stansbury if the continual flow of different Echo devices could be confusing for consumers working out which Echo device to choose. “We always work to bring consumers as much choice [as possible] so they can find something that works wherever they want,” he says. “On the retail page you can see the difference between the devices, what you get and what’s on offer so you can see the different sizes and what might work for everybody.
“One of the things [we’ve] talked about is that the Echo Spot looks a little more like an alarm clock that you can put on your [bedside table] whereas the Echo Show 5 might be better for your desk where you want something that’s not going to take up a lot of room but still has all that functionality…but the Echo Show 5 can work perfectly well on the [bedside table] as well.
Discovering Alexa features
Alexa is now so capable, that we put it to Stansbury that it was challenging for users to work out what to discover next. There have been various attempts by Amazon to prompt users with additional ways to use Alexa and the Echo Show now has a feature discovery panel if you swipe across from the right of the screen.
Of course, you can also ask Alexa “What can I do?” and she’ll walk you through suggestions. There’s also a weekly email plus suggestions for things to ask Alexa that appear on the Echo Show screen.
“We try to make the interaction with the device as natural as possible so you can use your voice,” continues Stansbury. “One of the things is we just want to keep the functionality simple so you can ask her exactly what you want her to do. And she’s always getting smarter and learning more things.”
We wondered about the uptake of newer features, such Announcements and Drop In, given they’re not immediately obvious uses for an Echo device. “We see great uptake on these things,” says Stansbury. “To a certain extent it depends on how your home is configured – if you have a smaller home then Announcements [where Alexa can be used call people to dinner, for example] may not be that useful. Same with Drop In; if you have a smaller house you’re probably not going to Drop In from one room to the next.
And what about setup? “One of the things we’ve tried to do is make it completely easy from the beginning – we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the setup experience. Once you get a second device there’s a certain amount of information that we can already use, something called Simple Setup, so again we continue to look at ways to make things easy [to do]. If you look at the Smart Plug we released, it’s a great example of us trying to think of the easiest way to make a device smart, there’s a scannable barcode on there [for setup].”
How does Amazon plan new Alexa features?
Finally, we asked Stansbury if it is a challenge to plan for future Alexa features given that people use the assistant for so many different tasks. “One of the things that’s super interesting about the product is that it’s so versatile that for each customer it ends up being something quite different.
And so in terms of maturing [users] it’s quite interesting. I think you find customers who have very distinct use cases [for Alexa]. Things that they want to do. Some of them may become more common trends."
“I think you definitely see patterns of usage but I think every user [uses Alexa depending on] their house, what they’re hoping to accomplish. You see tonnes of routines set up around what’s most convenient to people. They might be around their smart configuration or announcements or weather. It’s great that people can find different ways to customise it. Blueprints is another example where they can create custom skills. People are using these things in a variety of different ways to suit their lifestyle.
“To me I think it’s just great and exciting that we could build something that has that amount of utility and that ability for customers to do this wide variety of things. We continue to be amazed to see how customers use it.”