No wonder then that we have a love-hate relationship with voice assistants like Alexa and the internet-connected smart speakers ‘she’ communicates through. The initial idea seems good, but then in practice… Indeed, according to internal Amazon data seen by Bloomberg, only a little over half the owners of Amazon’s Echo Dot Alexa device use it each week. Worse, as many as a quarter of new Alexa users give up on their devices after just a fortnight.
Now, it emerges, Amazon may be giving up a little on Alexa, too. Or at least significantly cutting back the division behind it, which has come to look bloated, as Silicon Valley undergoes its biggest retrenchment since the dot-com bust of 2000. After two decades of hell-for-leather growth, the tech giants are laying off workers (some 130,000 so far), cutting budgets and pausing recruitment. Amazon is no exception, scanning its operations for fat to cut.
And the Alexa division looks plumper than most, home as it has been to a huge roster of staff – in a single year, 2019, it doubled its workforce to 10,000. That’s quite something for a department that, according to recent reports, is losing as much as a billion dollars a month, far more than Amazon’s other business units, and for a product which, by Amazon’s own analysis, has passed the “growth phase” so that sales are slowing. “It pains me to have to deliver this news as we know we will lose talented Amazonians,” David Limp, the executive in charge of Alexa, wrote to his staff last week, breaking the news.
It is a message he would not have been delivering had Alexa lived up to its creators’ grandest expectations, enabling a vision in which we accessed and interrogated the internet’s torrent of information through it, while it acted as the master hub for a network of smart devices in our homes, from lighting to internet-connected fridges.