Alexa For PCs Makes Its Next Jump Forward

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It’s not exactly a secret that Amazon’s ambition for Alexa’s eventual reach ranges much, much farther than the Echo series of smart speakers.  The last year has seen stepped-up efforts to bring Alexa to carssmart homes, businesses and security systems.  Amazon’s vision for Alexa is nothing if not wide-ranging.

Yesterday, that vision took another great leap forward, according to Amazon’s developer blog — the Alexa for PCs ecosystem got four big additions.

“Today, we introduce Alexa for PC solutions from Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs),” Mariel van Tatenhove, principal business development lead on Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service team, wrote. “Customers use PCs every day for business and entertainment. We believe voice is the next major disruption in the PC category, which is an important part of our ‘Alexa Everywhere’ vision.”

Alexa for PCs is not brand new — Amazon first announced the cloud-based voice service to Windows 10 computers earlier this year — and has been signaling its intentions for a bigger PC push for quite some time. As of this announcement, Amazon already has Acer, Asus, Lenovo and HP adding on integrations with Alexa since earlier this year.

But the four new devices on the market are unique in that they were designed specifically by the ODM to work with the Alexa system.

“All of these pre-tested, final-product designs have been built for a far-field Alexa experience, with Intel CPUs, drivers, wake word engine, and microphone arrays,” van Tatenhove wrote of the newly released products.

So what are the specs — and what will it mean for the rapid proliferation of Alexa across the PC ecosystem?

The Alexa-Ready Machines

The four designs new designs come care of Wistron, Compal, and Quanta — all Taiwan-based.

Wistron is rolling out the most traditional all-in-one PC with a 27-inch 4K display. It also includes a 1080p webcam with an infrared sensor, four microphones, and two stereo speakers.

The same firm is also offering up a convertible table product with a 15.6-inch 4K touch display, an HD camera, eight hours of battery life, four microphones, and two speakers.

Compal’s convertible tablet/notebook is a similar 15.6 inch screen offering that distinguishes itself with a longer (13 hours) battery life and a stylus. This is the model recommended for mobile gaming.

The Quanta-made convertible notebook comes with a smaller 14-inch 4K display, no touch screen, and 18 hours of battery life. It also comes with a fingerprint reader, four digital microphones, and two speakers. This one is for spending more time outdoors unplugged, according to Amazon.

As for what the devices can do…

“With Alexa for PCs, users can invoke the ‘Alexa’ wake word and ask to check calendars, hear the news, set timers, play music, manage shopping lists, and more,” van Tatenhove wrote.

What Alexa for PC doesn’t do yet, according to reports, is support phone calls or messaging between Alexa devices or stream Spotify or Pandora (Amazon Music, Sirius XM and IHeartRadio are all streamable) — though according to Amazon sources, those expansions are being considered.

“We’re excited to add the first Alexa for PC ODM products to our portfolio of qualified solutions,” Jon Kirk, director of Alexa Voice Service at Amazon, said in a statement. “These Windows 10 PCs have been designed from the ground up to support Alexa, bringing Amazon’s voice service to customers in new ways.”

Working With Microsoft

The move toward an Alexa-friendly Windows ecosystem has been under development for some time.  As of August of last year, Alexa and Cortana (Amazon and Micorsoft) found they were suddenly on voice command speaking terms with the announcement that either company’s smart home speakers will soon be able to leverage the capabilities of the other just by asking.

“The world is big and so multifaceted,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience.”

“We want to make it possible for our customers to be able to get the most out of their personal digital assistants and not be bound to a single walled garden, and for developers to work with the maximum number of users,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella about the company’s view of a multiple AI assistant world.

Amazon has also expanded out its Alexa for Business capacity — and has been pushing further into the Windows computer space, as yesterday’s announcement clearly demonstrated.

And the personal assistants even have nice things to say about each other.

When asked “What do you think of Cortana?” on a Windows 10 PC at Microsoft’s Build conference in early May, the AI assistant responded “I like Cortana. We both have experience with light rings, although hers is more of a Halo.”

Halo is a the premier video game franchise of Microsoft’s XBoX ecosystem.  Most were relieved to see that Alexa’s sense of humor translated to the PC milieu.

Others speculated that Alexa’s joke was actually teasing the fact that she is coming to Microsoft’s XBox. That speculation has particularly picked up this week, when Windows Central reported that Alexa (and the Google Assistant) are coming soon to the Xbox ecosystem as well.

“The full range of features for those assistants remains unknown, but it could bring back many of the voice-assisted features abandoned Kinect users are yearning for.”

The hard evidence for this claim is limited to a single unsourced photograph that seems to show enabling Amazon or Google’s assistant in an XBox user menu.

Not the hardest evidence in the world — but when combined with the fact that Microsoft Xbox veteran Albert Penello recently joined Amazon to “help figure out how to grow Alexa / Echo presence in gaming,” and Amazon’s push into the window’s ecosystem?

Doesn’t seem impossible, or even unlikely, either.

Because — well — as this week demonstrates, they  call it the “Alexa Everywhere vision” for a reason.