Opinion: Now is the Winter of Voice Assistants

In November 2022, Amazon laid off 10,000 employees largely involved in Alexa development. Next year, Google Home will no longer support Conversational Actions, Google's version of custom voice apps. As of June 13, 2023, they will no longer be available.

The momentum behind smart speakers that started in 2014 has sputtered into the trough of disillusionment. Amazon failed to monetize Alexa and Jeff Bezos shifted his attention to another project. Security concerns about eavesdropping, justified or not, led to distrust. There were interesting implementations, like St. Noire, a board game incorporating Alexa. Jeopardy remains a popular skill despite usability issues. Amazon's effort to position Alexa as a shopping assistant never materialized and there was no single killer, must-have voice app.

I was heavily involved in this space for a couple years and attempted to build a business around it. We were starting to get traction when COVID hit. I'd like to think we could have pivoted by now if COVID wasn't a factor. I still use my Alexa for music, timers, weather, and home automation, but use of third-party experiences has dropped.

There are still some compelling use cases, like assistance for those aging in place and for the visually impaired. I was thrilled to recieved an email from a visually impaired individual thanking me for releasing an audio game on Alexa. With smart speakers in roughly 50% of households in the US, Amazon and Google are not likely to abandon this market altogether, but they are overdue for a pivot. Looking ahead, we're likely to see more focused applications of smart speakers as this space begins to dig out of its current low up to the plateau of enlightenment.