Amazon hasn’t held any big events or built a big, splashy booth at CES 2016 (which isn’t a surprise, lots of big tech companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft don’t have much of a presence), but the Seattle online retail giant has had quite an influence here nonetheless. Amazon has partnered with multiple companies here to quietly become a major force in home control and automation. By extending the footprint of its nascent Alexa Voice and Dash Replenishment Services, Amazon is turning a bunch of eccentric technologies into a platform that can make life more convenient for consumers—and boost sales for Amazon.
Amazon launched Alexa in 2014 as the brains behind the company’s own Echo wireless speaker, and Dash was introduced this past year in the form of stick-on wireless physical buttons that let you order supplies from Amazon without having to use a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Both the Echo and the Dash Buttons seemed highly optional and even strange when first introduced—the former is a speaker that answers questions when spoken to, the latter a bunch of high-tech buttons that serve no purpose but to but to buy stuff from the company you bought them from. Amazon has used those products as a launch platform for an ecosystem of services that it hopes to see built into products from a variety of partner companies.
Ford, for instance, announced that it would integrate Alexa into its Sync 3 in-car information and entertainment system later this year. Ford demos at CES showed Alexa turning on home lighting and checking the status of a garage door in response to voice commands through the Sync system. Ford's use of Alexa leverages some of the home automation integration Amazon has already built into its Echo speaker. Last summer, the company upgraded the Echo so owners could use Alexa to voice control Philips Hue lightbulbs as well as coffeemakers and other smart devices on Belkin’s WeMo platform. Several new products introduced this week at CES also work with Echo's Alexa voice control, including the new Haiku series of fans and lights from Big Ass Fans.
If Alexa is Amazon’s play to control your home, Dash is its attempt to keep it automatically stocked with supplies—purchased from Amazon, of course. Whirlpool’s new line of smart appliances have an app that can be linked to the Dash Replenishment Service. When the app estimates that the owner is running low on dishwasher or laundry detergent, it will order more automatically. Other manufacturers have also committed to the service—GE is also making washers that order their own detergent, Brita is creating water pitchers that automatically order new filters, and Brother is making printers that purchase ink when their tanks run dry.
It’s all part of Amazon’s ever-expanding mandate. The company that started as a bookseller evolved into a major retailer, then a web-services provider, an entertainment company, hardware manufacturer, and now a home-control and automation platform. It's also yet another ingenious way that Amazon has used technology to link convenience and customer loyalty in a way that benefits the company's bottom line—automatically.
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