Meet Spot: Amazon’s Solution to Enhancing Voice & Video Technologies

If software is really “eating the world,” no company is more likely to come down with a vicious case of indigestion than Amazon. In just a couple of decades, the company has redefined the experience of shopping, transformed office life via Amazon Web Services and introduced us to Alexa — their friendly, helpful voice assistant. 

A casual observer might say the creation of Alexa — as popular as she is — is somewhat inconsequential for a company that helped reinvent shopping and working. 

And that casual observer would be utterly wrong.

Why Alexa and voice technology offer extraordinary possibilities for brands 

Amazon is working to make voice technology an indispensable part of our daily lives by following a two-pronged strategy: Improving Alexa’s underlying software to make her more powerful and life-like, with also rolling out a plethora of new Alexa-equipped hardware devices, each designed to fulfill a specific role.

One example: The Amazon Spot — a compact, Alexa-equipped device with added features made possible through the touchscreen. While it might first appear to be a simple, whimsical looking home device, the Spot has much more going on under the surface — and it starts with a concept called machine vision.

The Echo Spot uses artificial intelligence-equipped video and voice processing to allow Alexa to better understand the surrounding environment. By merging voice with visuals, Alexa can use her facial recognition capabilities to perform tasks such as adjusting room temperatures, alerting you when friends or packages arrive at the door or guide you through custom recipes.

At its recent hardware rollout in September, Amazon debuted more than a dozen new products and product upgrades, most of which came equipped with Alexa. The tech giant seems intent about deploying Alexa’s capabilities in every possible device — not only in our homes but also in our vehicles as well.

Amazon’s push to make Alexa omnipresent in our daily lives is no big strategic secret. In a recent company earnings call, Amazon hinted that Alexa would be a key growth driver in the years ahead, not merely in e-commerce, but in digital streaming services and other channels.

A new paradigm

The debut of the iPhone seems like a seminal event in retrospect, but at the time it left some observers decidedly underwhelmed — a TechCrunch review even predicted the iPhone would “bomb” because consumers would hate the now-revolutionary touchscreen design.

We can’t judge these early misapprehensions too harshly, however — it’s often difficult to grasp paradigm-shifting technology in its early stages. 

Voice technology is developing along the same curve. At first, these devices seemed to be a useful but hardly essential household luxury. As the technology grows more powerful, however, the true nature of this shift will become apparent. 

Voice app development and new hardware devices such as Amazon Spot will make the technology more accessible, easier to use and, ultimately, harder to live without — and that’s something that should draw the attention of every marketer.

The takeaway

Much as the notion of carrying a tiny computer that’s integrated into every aspect of your life would have seemed far-fetched as late as the year 2000, replacing the conventional smartphone with advanced voice assistants (in hundreds or thousands of different forms) today seems remarkable.

Soon, however, Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant will be our constant companions, ready to help execute an almost limitless series of tasks with great efficiency and precision. The maturation of the underlying machine learning technology — and countless new skills being added through voice app development — will help speed this process.

While voice assistant-enabled commercial transactions may be a novelty for many today, they will soon become commonplace. This means that brands that begin deploying voice technology at this (still early) stage will carve out a significant edge in the voice and visual ecosystem.

Contact our voice engineering services team today to get the edge on voice technology.

Amazon’s Alexa Just Powered up – Here’s What Marketers Need to Know

Voice technology continues to surge in terms of adoption, with global smart speaker sales up 187% in 2018’s second quarter. The world’s largest manufacturers collectively shipped nearly 17 million voice technology devices in the second quarter, up from roughly 9 million units in the first quarter.

These numbers are evidence of an ongoing shift from touch to voice as the default manner by which we access connected devices. Someday soon, the idea of navigating through daily life by tapping on a smartphone screen may seem as quaint as visiting the neighborhood video rental store.

This has massive implications for advertisers and marketers, of course — and one of the best ways to capitalize on this is the effective use of Alexa Skill programming.

Evolving from basic Skills to a nearly limitless future

While Alexa’s current Skills are geared toward basic topics and operations, new tools are being released that will profoundly expand the powers of Amazon’s smart speakers.

The company recently staged its Amazon Fall Device Announcement Event in Seattle, rolling out more than 70 new devices and developer tools.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most relevant of these new voice products, features, and tools debuted out in September:

Next generation Echo devices

The third generation Echo Dot gets a redesign and better sound, while the second generation Echo Show features improved sound and a larger display. The second generation Echo Plus allows consumers to automatically discover and set up connected lights, locks and plugs with a simple voice command.

New Echo companion devices

The Echo Input, Echo Sub and Echo Link allows Alexa to be added to existing speakers and enables direct streaming from high fidelity stereo systems.

Echo On-the-Go

Alexa can now go mobile, as On-the-Go allows users to add her to their car or truck.

New Alexa features

Along with new products and new product iterations, Alexa is getting smarter and more powerful. New features include guided cooking, email, Skype and streaming music integration, plus smart home and security features.

Added developer tools

Amazon has introduced a new developer language (Amazon Presentation Language) that is designed to help integrate voice with visuals. The company also introduced the fourth iteration of their Smart Home API and Alexa Connect Kit.

Amazon’s decision to focus on adding a visual component to its voice technology devices is telling. The company is attempting to improve the user experience and make voice technology more accessible. Along with new hardware devices, the introduction of Amazon Presentation Language will give developers one more powerful tool in their arsenal.

In the coming years, Alexa’s capabilities will grow exponentially as she transitions from fulfilling basic and relatively straightforward tasks to handling more advanced processes. Alexa’s cloud-based machine learning capabilities ensure that she grows smarter over time, improving in understanding and natural language processing and accuracy. Amazon’s goal is to have Alexa tightly integrated into consumer life, both at home and in commercial settings. 

The takeaway

In terms of marketing, the introduction of new devices, features and Alexa Skill programming tools is an exciting development. As Skills grow more refined and powerful, they will become competitive in terms of audience reach with smartphone applications. 

Savvy brands will stay at the vanguard of the shift to voice technology, using Alexa Skills to sell, market products and services, and deepen engagement with their audiences.

Contact our voice experts today to get your brand’s Alexa Skill programming jumpstarted.

Looking for Better Classroom Engagement? Work With Alexa…

In just a few years, digital assistants have gone from a novelty to nearly ubiquitous. Much like the smartphone revolution a decade earlier, Amazon Alexa and Google Home are transforming the way we live, work and learn. This could not be more apparent anywhere else than in the classroom, where Alexa programming is helping drive superior educational outcomes while getting students more engaged with the learning process.

How voice technology is being implemented in classrooms

Products such as Amazon Alexa are a natural fit for today’s classroom. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase, they can be easily programmed to provide a vast amount of educational functionality and — most importantly — students love interacting with A.I.-driven voice assistants.

So, how are teachers and administrators using Alexa and other platforms in the classroom? Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular implementations:

Storytelling 

Alexa is capable of reading stories to students, including popular audiobooks. This is particularly well-suited for younger classrooms, where the novelty of having a voice assistant lead “story time” is always an attraction.

Mathematics 

In addition to reading stories, Alexa has the ability to perform calculations and teach basic math skills. This can liven up instruction and provide teachers with an easy resource to check student work after class is over.

History lessons 

Along with her ability to spin a tale, Alexa is also a current events whiz, as she can offer daily news rundowns. Alexa programming also allows teachers to use the device to administer historical trivia games and other content.

Science 

Alexa can also be programmed to deliver basic science lessons on everything from biology to the natural world or deliver popular science-focused podcasts.

Administrative functions

Teaching isn’t all about lecturing or offering hands-on instruction. Alexa’s programmed skills can help teachers with classroom time management tasks (by setting reminders) along with providing students a resource to discover information on their own, without having to interrupt the teacher.

These implementations represent just a few of the ways Alexa is being used to improve the learning experience. As the number of Alexa voice applications (or “skills”) continues to grow, teachers will have an even greater number of creative, voice-based approaches to deploy in the classroom.

Preparing for a voice-activated future

Growth in the voice assistant market has been explosive in recent years — and adoption of smart speakers is projected to rise by another 1000% by 2023. We are quickly shifting from a world mediated through a keyboard to a world that is run largely by voice command.

Whether at home, in the office or in the classroom, voice assistants are quickly becoming our default option for interfacing with the connected world. Schools that stay at the vanguard of this change will be best equipped to help their students navigate this transition.

A top Orlando marketing agency like BIGEYE can assist in this process by delivering sophisticated Alexa programming services at a competitive rate. Equipped with the right set of skills, Alexa can keep students engaged and excited while allowing teachers to work more efficiently at the same time. Talk with our voice engineers today to learn more about how we can personalize voice technology for your classroom.

How to Leverage Alexa’s Persistence Capabilities to Your Advantage

“Hey Alexa, what time is it?”, “What is in the news today?”, “What is the weather forecast for today?” The answers to these simple questions can help you jump start your day.
But, what if you need Alexa to remember a more specific piece of information from previous interactions? For example, the last time you took your medication or your current progress in an adventure game. This capability is known as persistence – a feature that is not being fully utilized by many companies or the voice engineering services firms they work with.

Alexa answering your question about the weather is helpful, but she can also remember that you inquire about the forecast first thing every morning when you wake up. This recollection allows Alexa to offer you the information as part of the conversation rather than a one time exchange, showcasing the true value of digital assistants. It is persistence that enables her to remember and recall information, providing a more anthropomorphic, or human-like, personality.

The purpose behind persistence

The goal in developing voice applications is providing interactions with Alexa that are more conversational and less transactional. An interaction along the lines of “Alexa, order me some coffee,” to which she responds, “What type of coffee would you like to order?” sounds completely transactional. Compare that to something like, “Alexa, order me some coffee,” to which she replies, “Sure, I see you ordered a dark roast last week and Colombian the week before. Would you like either of these or a new type of coffee?” Both of these conversations will result in you getting coffee, but the interactions are profoundly different.

Imagine asking your significant other their favorite restaurant every day for weeks and weeks. Odds are you would stop asking because after hearing the answer a few times your brain would commit it to memory. Then, you could capitalize on persistence and take your significant other out for a surprise dinner at that special spot. The thrill they get from knowing you remembered is how you should feel every time you interact with Alexa.

Techopedia, a technology-based encyclopedia resource, defines persistence as “an object or a process characteristic that continues to exist even after the process that created it ceases or the machine it is running on is powered off.” In the case of voice applications for Alexa, persistence means that even if your skill is not currently in use, the responses that have been given in the past are still in memory. And, can be called upon the next time that you invoke your skill.

With this feature, the programming possibilities are endless. Skills from Jeopardy to Skyrim use persistence to create unique, engaging experiences that bring users back over and over. Imagine the benefit to your business of producing that kind of appeal in a voice application!

Getting started

So, you are probably wondering, how does persistence work? Luckily, we are here to help break it down for you with a few simple steps:

1. You need to come up with a voice UX design that will help you determine what information your application needs to commit to memory and how that data will help your skill.

2. Next, you need a place to store this data and for that, you need a database such as DynamoDB. DynamoDB is a NoSQL (non-relational) database, which makes the storing of data more efficient. Non-relational databases are like the class jock from your high school. He’s great at one thing, but doesn’t do well with relationships. The diagram below shows a solution architecture using DynamoDB.

3. DynamoDB is separate from the core services, yet it is still highly performant. To develop this type of solution, you first create your environment inside of the database that will be holding your data. Next, you add methods that will save and retrieve data from your database for use by your skill.

Diagram 1

4. Finally, you need a way to give users the option to save this data (see diagram 2 for an example of how to store data programmatically).

Diagram 2

How to give users the option to save or in this case what is known as a ‘save intent’ can be seen in diagram 2 and 3. This can be something as simple as asking Alexa to “save my medications for the day.”

Diagram 3

Once this architecture is in place, the new methods you develop will be able to create, update, read, and destroy data as the skill is used.

As you start storing data, you may need to refactor the existing method that will handle your skill. This is the handler that will give your skill the functionality to call upon this stored data and produce meaningful responses. For example, imagine a skill that will help users keep track of their medications, including whether or not they have already taken medication today and the amount in which they have taken. Let’s call it Medi Buddy.

The interaction might look something like this:

User: “Alexa, open Medi Buddy.”

Alexa: “Welcome to Medi Buddy. What medications have you taken today?”

User: “Tylenol.”

Alexa: “You have now taken two doses today. Please be mindful of this.”

Or, asking Alexa the same question from a different perspective…

User: “Alexa, ask Medi Buddy how many doses of Tylenol I have taken today.”

Alexa: “You have taken two doses of Tylenol today.”

The takeaway

Medi Buddy stores data on medications taken allowing Alexa to use that information in two different contexts. In some instances, that capability simply makes interactions more positive. In others, like our Medi Buddy, its ability to grasp medical facts could be a lifesaver.

Regardless of the question asked, the power of persistence wielded by a skilled voice engineering services firm can help you develop exceptional applications. Contact our development team today and we will get Alexa set up to connect consumers with your business.  

Author: Yavi Padilla, Web and Voice UX Engineer

3 Essential Steps for Innovative and New Alexa Skills

Especially through the implementation of voice advances such as new Alexa Skills, the power of the Internet is now a single swipe away, regardless of time or location. With the introduction of digital assistants, the experience of interacting with the Internet became even less mediated. Now, instead of swiping and actively seeking information, users could simply pose questions and listen to the response.
This innovation has profound impact for businesses and marketers, who are busy developing new Alexa Skills and Google actions to better serve their clients. At BIGEYE, we’re part of that trend — we recognized the importance of smart speakers early and we’ve been at the vanguard of digital assistant development.   

With that in mind, let’s discuss three key things we’ve learned while developing for digital assistants.

Intuitive design is critically important

Standard apps have visual cues that people can use for guidance. Even if they don’t entirely understand how the app functions, they can use context clues and visual information to learn how to navigate. They can also scroll back up if any information is forgotten.

Alexa Skills don’t have visual cues or scrolling ability, which means that it’s essential for developers to create logical, intuitive interfaces that are easy to use. Predictive learning is critical; only by anticipating what users are going to say can developers ensure that users don’t become frustrated and disappointed.

Emphasize user experience

People have different expectations when they use voice apps — they expect it to be a more “human-like” experience than that seen in an interaction with a graphical interface. Voice apps should play into this expectation and deliver a warm user experience.

Simplicity should also be stressed. Too much complexity will lower engagement with any app, and that’s especially true with voice technology — still an unfamiliar experience for many people.

Solve a problem

If you want to create an Alexa Skill that finds a loyal audience, focus on solving a real world problem. Give the user a reason to use the technology frequently by having it address a recurring issue they have to deal with.

These problems don’t have to be epic in scale; perhaps it’s just an easier way to order a favorite item, or a reminder that something needs to be done. The important thing is that the Skill adds value and is used frequently in daily life.

The takeaway

Digital assistant technology is being adopted at an incredible rate. Soon, Amazon Alexa and Google Home may become as ubiquitous as the smartphone.

In order to capitalize on this shift, businesses and marketers should apply the insights outlined above during their development efforts. As a top Florida advertising agency, we’ve been integrating these development advances into our own client strategies.

Contact us today to see how we advance your brand into this new voice technology realm.

6 Tips for Creating an Eye-Catching Video Marketing Strategy

As the majority purchasing consumer audience continues to skew younger, their preferences become ever more important — and that means video is ascendant. According to Wired magazine, YouTube now reaches more Millennials than any cable network. Even more importantly, video is influencing purchasing, making a video marketing strategy that much more valuable.
A study from Animoto shows that 80% of Millennials use video when making a buying decision, while 76% follow brands on YouTube. And if you think those numbers are impressive, just wait a few years until the even more video-focused Generation Z achieves the same level of buying power as Millennials.

So how can businesses capitalize on this shift? It’s simple: Create and distribute the kind of video content that catches attention and converts potential customers.

Tips for creating a stellar video marketing strategy

Given that a staggering one-third of all time spent online is devoted to watching videos, businesses can no longer afford to ignore the impact of video marketing if they wish to remain competitive. And the traditional reasons many companies have given for avoiding video (cost and time) no longer apply, thanks to the emergence of new technologies.

Preparation and planning, however, are key. So to help you craft a truly effective video marketing strategy, consider the following tips:

1. Define your goals and establish key performance indicators

Before getting started with content, you need to have an overarching objective: What do you hope to accomplish through video marketing? You’ll also need to measure the efficacy of your strategy, so you’ll need to establish performance indicators and then track your progress.

2. Create an attention-grabbing title

Have you seen YouTube titles lately? You’ll notice they share many of the same characteristics: Capital letters, lots of human faces making animated expressions and intriguing descriptions. All of these things are proven to increase engagement.

3. Focus on the first ten seconds

The first few seconds of your video are the most important; they need to jump out at viewers and seize their attention. If a video is too slow to build momentum, viewers will drop away.

4. Don’t be overly focused on what you’re selling

Younger viewers love videos, but they don’t love the hard sell. Let interest in the product build organically by taking a subtle approach.

5. Ensure that it’s optimized for mobile and search

Even the best video will be ignored if it doesn’t play properly on a smaller screen or if it’s inaccessible to your audience.

6. Go behind the scenes

This is one of the more popular video trends of late — and for good reasons. Viewers love behind the scenes videos, and they offer an easy way to create compelling content.

The takeaway

It’s hard to understate the importance of video marketing, as the statistics illustrate just how pervasive the form has become. As a top Florida advertising agency, we’re experts at creating the kind of eye-catching video marketing content that wows viewers — and converts them into customers. Contact BIGEYE today to implement a video marketing strategy that converts.