Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services for Amazon.com Inc., speaks at an unveiling event at the company’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Chloe Collyer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Since Amazon released its Alexa voice assistant in 2014, the company has worked hard to embed the technology into as many devices as possible, from microwaves and thermostats to ear buds and wall plugs.
Now, Amazon is making TVs a bigger focus of its push to put Alexa everywhere, as it eyes its presence in the smart home market. At a hardware event in 2021, the company unveiled its first TV sets, which users can control by voice with Alexa. Amazon followed up that launch on Wednesday, adding three new sizes of its QLED TVs and a cheaper model to its Fire TV lineup.
Dave Limp, Amazon’s head of hardware, told CNBC in an interview that smart TVs are the fastest-growing part of the company’s Fire TV business, which also includes streaming sticks and the Fire TV Cube, a streaming box with Alexa. Amazon said Wednesday it has sold more than 200 million Fire TV devices worldwide, up from 150 million in January.
But as Amazon puts more emphasis on TV, the company risks the possibility that consumers will hoard its Echo smart speakers, which were introduced in 2014 and soon became a home sensation. That’s not just a hypothetical. Limp removed the speaker from the living room.
“I don’t have an Echo anymore, I just use my TV,” Limp said. “So it serves a double duty, it’s just that its primary responsibility is first and foremost to be great television.”
Limp, as you might expect, rejects the idea that an Alexa-powered Fire TV will cannibalize the company’s Echo devices. Entertainment is still the main purpose of TV, and the Echo’s multiple form factors can be used in any room in the house.
For Amazon to make a dent in the hypercompetitive smart TV market, the company needs a selling point that goes beyond TV shows, movies and offers all available streaming services. Amazon sees an opportunity to turn the TV into a massive smart display that’s always on.
The company calls it the Fire TV Ambient Experience. Other companies do that too. For example, Samsung and LG have TVs that display high-quality art or photos when they’re not in use.
“As you walk around your house and you have all these dark panels, usually they’re off and they’re big black holes in the wall in your house,” Limp said. “So how can we make better use of them?”
Amazon is doubling down on TVs at a time when CEO Andy Jassy has moved aggressively to cut costs, resulting in the largest layoffs in company history, a corporate hiring freeze and several canceled projects.
A portion of the layoffs, expected to total 27,000 employees, went to the Limp organization, which oversees the development of products such as Alexa, the Echo smart speaker and the Kindle e-reader. Fewer than 2,000 people in the Limp division were let go as part of the job cuts, he previously told CNBC.
The layoffs at the Alexa division are primarily in and around health-related services and newer “higher beta” projects, Limp said.
“We’re still very focused on the Fire TV and Alexa businesses, and you’ll see it in the products,” Limp said, referring to Wednesday’s announcement.
Since its launch in 2014, Amazon has made major investments in Alexa and assigned top talent to grow the technology, largely under the direction of founder Jeff Bezos, who saw voice as key to how we communicate. people on computers in the future. Amazon has about 10,000 people working on Alexa-related projects.
But Bezos’ view is not universally accepted. Bloomberg reported that Amazon executives have expressed concern about fading Alexa user engagement. Some worry that Echo speakers are heading in the direction of other once-trendy consumer devices that eventually lose value. Instead of being used for shopping lists, ordering groceries and setting schedules, what if Echo owners limited their use to basic functions like alarm clocks, timers and updates on weather?
However, Limp said engagement with Alexa devices continues to increase.
“People use it for an alarm clock, don’t get me wrong, but they use it for so many broad things,” Limp said. “It’s incredible when you look at the utility that Alexa brings to the home. I think Fire TV just makes that better.”
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