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Is The Echo The First Truly Original Consumer IoT Product?

Mike Wolf Amazon Echo

I wrote a piece this morning for Forbes that suggested the Amazon Echo might be the first truly original consumer product born of the IoT era.

Some may think this is a grandiose statement. It sounds like one. After all, like you, I am tired of hyperbole and sensationalistic headlines designed to grab eyeballs, but as I think about it, I have to wonder if there has been any other new device in the consumer space, in IoT, in the digital home, that has been as fresh a take as the Echo over the past five or so years? I have a hard time thinking of one.

I made this point through the piece, and how it's really evidenced through how we as an industry and consumers have reacted to it, tried to process this new device.  As an industry we don't quite know how to categorize the Echo yet, a sign of its originality: 

"...with the Echo, Amazon has created something new and different, something we really haven’t seen before. This newness has meant as an industry, we’ve had trouble describing the Echo. Is it a wireless speaker? A virtual assistant? A smart home interface? The reality is we like categories, buckets where we can put things and, for now at least, we haven’t really created a short hand description for this new thing called Echo."

On the consumer side, it's still something that is magical and new, not yet tired like so many other technology miracles born of the mobile revolution:

As consumers, we might explain the Echo to friends as a wireless speaker, a Siri-like remote or a home automation hub, but the fact that it almost defies description is a testament to the fact to just how different the Echo is. It’s still magical in a world where so many once-magical things like smartphones and tablets are now pedestrian.

And as for other poster children for the nascent consumer IoT market like the Apple Watch and the Nest?

In the consumer world however, IoT has been a harder sell, and as we’ve been left trying to explain how different the Apple AAPL +0.49% Watch is from older watches or how the Nest will save us money on our energy bill, it’s all felt a little forced.

Make no mistake. Apple’s sold way more watches that Amazon’s sold Echos, but is that any surprise? Apple has a built-in audience of 5-10 million consumers that will buy anything new they create, but it still feels like the Apple Watch isn’t on the same stratospheric early growth path that the iPhone or iPad were on . The Nest’s early success has been more organic, but after a fast start to a million it’s not clear they’ve continued the same momentum.

But here’s the bigger point: Both of those devices are existing product categories that simply became more connected, smarter. In the Echo we have something new, the first consumer IoT product that feels as if it’s born of this new era.

For that reason alone it’s exciting.

This doesn't mean Amazon has created a new runaway hit that it can ride into digital home dominance over the next few years. Early success like this is a fragile thing, something that can be screwed up. Amazon is known for throwing elbows and offending its frenemies (how else would describe a retail partner of Amazon, who's probably had their lunch eaten by Amazon over the past decade?).  

At the same time, others are realizing a cool new device that can connect to third party home services, enable voice control access of most parts of your home and also entertain you is a pretty good idea, probably better than creating yet another plumbing play in the digital home space.  The Google OnHub is a new take on home routers, one that, as many have pointed out, looks a lot like the Amazon Echo. Who knows that that will become?

Bottom line, Amazon has something new and now, after an initial slow rollout, they're pouring gas on the fire by running ads on prime time, pushing it through retail outlets like Home Depot and more.  

The Amazon Echo deserves credit as something original and new, and it's worth watching to see if Amazon can take it next-level. 

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