Amazon Enlists 30 Partners in Voice Interoperability Initiative


Amazon on Tuesday announced that dozens of partners have joined it in a Voice Interoperability Initiative. The aim is to support multiple, interoperable voice services on a single device so customers can access the one they want by saying the appropriate wake word.

Partners include Baidu, Tencent, BMW, Microsoft, Salesforce, Sonos, Spotify, Harman Kardon, Bose, Orange and Verizon.

Participating hardware providers include Amlogic, Innomedia, Intel MediaTek, NXP Semiconductors and Qualcomm Technologies. Original design manufacturers InnoMedia, Only and SGW Global have joined the effort, as well as system integrators CommScope, Libre, StreamUnlimited and MyBox.

Project Goals

Companies involved in the initiative will work with researchers and universities to accelerate the state of the art in machine learning and wake word technology, ranging from developing algorithms that let wake words run on portable, low-power devices to improving security.

Alexa machine learning and speech science technology is designed to support multiple, simultaneous wake words, so any device maker using the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) can build powerful, differentiated products that offer multiple voice services in addition to Alexa.

To counter the resulting higher development costs and increased memory load on devices, hardware provider and system integrator members of the initiative will develop products and services to make it easier and more affordable for original equipment manufacturers to support multiple wake words on their devices.

Initiative members will work together to protect the security and privacy of customers interacting with multiple voice services, as well as those that support multiple simultaneous wake words.

The Voice Interoperability Initiative has four priorities:

  • Developing voice services that can work seamlessly with others while protecting customers’ privacy and security;
  • Building voice-enabled devices that promote choice and flexibility through multiple, simultaneous wake words;
  • Releasing technologies and solutions that make it easier to integrate multiple voice services on a single product; and
  • Accelerating machine learning and conversational AI research to improve the breadth, quality and interoperability of voice services.

Who’s Isn’t In – and Why

Apple, Google, Samsung and Facebook are not on the list of Voice Interoperability Initiative members.

“I find it hard to believe that Amazon didn’t or wouldn’t invite them,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. “I find it interesting that Samsung isn’t included, though Harman Kardon is.”

Apple, Google, Facebook, Samsung and Deutsche Telekom — another notable absentee from the membership list — reportedly were invited to join the group.

Google and Apple “view Alexa as a competitor, so it doesn’t really surprise me that they aren’t listed,” McGregor told TechNewsWorld.

Apple and Facebook “aren’t good at partnering, and Google has the attention span of a 4-year-old on sugar, so they may have simply not gotten around to it yet,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Further, Google and Facebook “have horrid reputations when it comes to privacy, and a breach could kill the effort,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Inviting Apple would be a waste of time as they’d say no.”

Also, antitrust investigations into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google “may make it unwise for them to partner at the moment,” Enderle pointed out.

Why Partners Are Flocking to the Initiative

Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri reportedly are available on more than 500 million devices.

Alexa was available on 100 million devices as of January, Amazon SVP David Limp said.

Mobile devices equipped with Assistant or Siri are widespread in business environments, which raises the question of why Amazon’s initiative drew so many partners.

“Amazon is dominant where people actually use the assistants,” Enderle contended. “Google and Apple are dominant where they don’t. People aren’t really using voice assistants on smartphones any more.”

Amazon “is the leader in the market with Alexa, in terms of the diversity of applications and number of developers, and they give away the technology,” McGregor noted.

Google and Apple have agreements with companies in various fields, including automakers, to include their voice assistants in their products, but “many companies, especially in the automotive sector, don’t want to be reliant on them, so they’re developing their own solutions,” McGregor said.

Amazon “isn’t focused on technology dominance,” he noted. “They are focused on growing the market and enabling new business models through technology.”

The initiative “makes it easier to work with Alexa and other platforms, so it’s good for the OEMs looking to differentiate, and for consumers that are likely to buy solutions from different vendors,” McGregor added.

Partners’ Voice Assistants

Baidu, Tencent and Microsoft all have their own voice assistants, as does Salesforce.

“I think [Microsoft’s] Cortana will eventually go away because of the lack of success,” McGregor said. As for Baidu’s and Tencent’s assistants, “I think the initiative will let these platforms run on Amazon services and interact with Alexa, which is all good news.”

Alternatively, joining the Initiative “should give more people the choice to use Cortana, which often provides a better experience than Siri or Google,” Enderle said. That “depends on how much Microsoft invests in this initiative, which will depend on how strategic they see it. My sense is they see it as very strategic.”

Joining the initiative “should allow Salesforce to either expand Einstein or use one of the other voice assistants,” Enderle said. “They should be OK with using whatever their customer wants them to use.”

The initiative “is more of a standards effort than it is a blessing for Alexa,” Enderle said. “A single interoperable standard.”

If Google or Apple don’t join the initiative, “their efforts will be more likely to fail in the market,” he observed. On the other hand, Alexa “isn’t a full AI yet, so this should open up AI competition, potentially raising all boats.”


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