Speaking at the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Whitten said he was toying with the idea of turning Alexa into a 2018 version of a Blockbuster store clerk, who can guide your way to the most popular movies, but also opine on what you should really watch instead.
Amazon’s Fire TV devices have been shipping with support for Alexa for years, initially offering access to the company’s voice assistant via microphones integrated into the Fire TV’s remote control. That constrained consumers in how they used the service, Whitten said, with many just speaking in short search terms, much like the ones one would enter with a keyboard.
Consumer behavior changed dramatically when Amazon added the ability to control Fire TVs with the company’s Echo speakers last summer. Customers who use the Echo’s far-field microphones speak in entire sentences with their Fire TV and ask very different questions, Whitten said. Instead of a single movie title, they may request the best comedies featuring a certain actor, for example. “They are starting to express a lot more intent,” he said.
And with consumers establishing a more personal connection with their TVs, it’s only reasonable to expect some personality on the other side as well. “It’s been important that Alexa has opinions,” Whitten said. The fact that Alexa has a favorite color and other personal preferences has made the assistant more relatable — adding a bit of entertainment chops to that mix could help to further improve the experience.
Whitten said Amazon is also looking to improve the Fire TV experience by making it more context-aware. This could one day include clues from other smart devices around your home, maybe even your thermostat. “As our homes become smarter, there will be a lot more context,” he said, but also cautioned that getting personalization right takes time. “I’d say we’re early,” Whitten said.
Amazon didn’t have any Fire TV news at CES, but Whitten said the company is continuing to work with TV makers on Fire TV Edition devices, while also incorporating some of the features first introduced on those devices into Fire TV streaming products. “We learned a ton about that experience,” Whitten said.
Asked about Amazon’s spat with Google, Whitten said in some ways, not much had changed since the YouTube app was removed from Fire TV devices last year. Consumers can still access YouTube via browser apps on Fire TV, which have been performing “exceptionally well.”
Whitten didn’t want to specify how popular YouTube was on Fire TV before the app removal, but acknowledged that the service has gotten “tons of usage” on Fire TV. That should, in theory, be enough of an incentive for both companies to bury their hatchets, but there’s no word on when that might happen. “We are continuing to talk to Google,” Whitten said.