When Amazon brought voice control home with the Echo, it was supposed to usher in a new era of computing. Now the group is apparently taking the ax.

An almost magical way of interacting with a computer appeared: just ask a question or give an order – and the computer listening in the room will do the rest. Even small children grasped the concept immediately and even asked for the pacifier (read more here ). But the revolution that Amazon had hoped for from its language assistant Alexa did not materialize. Now she’s on the company’s savings list.

This emerges from a report by the “Wall Street Journal”. According to various Amazon insiders, the group is extensively examining its business for possible cost-cutting measures. One of the biggest items on the list is Alexa. The team includes around 11,000 people, and the hardware division, which includes Amazon’s Echons along with the FireTV devices and the Kindle e-readers, makes a total of a whopping five billion dollars a year. So it’s no wonder that Amazon sees enormous savings potential here.

Alexa on the test bench

You don’t want to sacrifice the language assistant itself, Alexa in its current form should remain in operation. According to insiders, however, the group is currently considering whether it is worth equipping the loss driver with additional extras. Teaching Alexa new tricks is very time-consuming, according to several people – and therefore expensive. On the other hand, most of the existing functions are already little used, so many users are stuck with a few basic commands.

Amazon once had big plans. Language assistants like Alexa should inherit the computer, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos dreamed of a computer interaction like in the science fiction hit “Star Trek”, in which people only articulate their needs in the room and these are then fulfilled. Completely independent of a single device. The idea of ​​a ubiquitous, quasi-disembodied computer experience was called “ubiquitous computing”.

But that never happened in everyday life. The commands are often too cumbersome and the answers too imprecise. Although Amazon, Google and Apple are constantly working on improvements, voice assistants have simply not been able to completely replace computers or smartphones. If the wrong song is started too often, at some point you just pick up your smartphone. And eventually just stop asking Alexa about it altogether.

Most important goal missed

The problem for Amazon, however, was much greater that customers simply ignored the most important feature from the group’s point of view: shopping. Alexa should be able to do what Amazon had never been able to do with smartphones: customers should organize their everyday life directly via the group’s platform. With Amazon as the default online shop.

However, there were early reports that customers were not using this option nearly as often as Amazon had hoped. The then Alexa boss David Limp had to admit the reason in a stern interview in 2018: Shopping only via voice is simply very little fun. “Music is simple. There are 40 million songs, fewer artists, even fewer albums. When it comes to shopping, there’s a lot more to it. You have to match size, cut, color, brand and lots of other metadata,” he explained. With the hundreds of millions of very different products in the Amazon range, it becomes almost impossible to find the right one.

pressure to save

It’s no surprise that Amazon is trying to save money. The economic pressure of recent months has not stopped at the online retail giant. In addition, the new boss Andy Jassy, ​​who has been in place since last year, was already very interested in optimizing processes and saving costs. He has also already cut costs in warehouses and during transport.

His predecessor, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, had also looked at costs. However, he had made money available for his great visions, such as the triumph of voice control, even when they brought in only lousy. Jassy doesn’t seem to share this passion.