Top news stories for SEASON ONE FINALE Episode 21 (December 14, 2017):

1) Voicebot.AI Story Of The Week: Amazon reveals part of its YouTube-mitigation strategy by enabling (and promoting) Twitch on the Echo Show.

2) Apple's acquisition of Shazam is the blueprint for improving Siri heading into 2018.

3) Google Home Max is out and receiving strong reviews.

YEAR IN REVIEW:

4) Report Card Time: Assign a letter grade for each company's 2017 #VoiceFirst performance:

 

Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Alibaba

5) What is the single most exciting development this year?

6) What is the single worst or most disappointing development this year?

7) What is the single most important storyline heading into 2018?

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Panel for Episode 21 (December 14, 2017):

Ahmed Bouzid

Dr. Ahmed Bouzid is CEO and founder of Witlingo, as well as author of Don't Make Me Tap!

Brian Roemmele

Brian Roemmele is editor and publisher of the best-selling ReadMultiplex newsletter and a renowned technology thought leader.

Mark Tucker

Mark Tucker is an Alexa Champion and Principal Engineer of St. Louis-based VoiceXP.

Transcript:

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:11] Hi. And welcome back to This Week In Voice for Thursday, December 14th. This is Episode 21, the season finale of what we're calling Season 1. We will be back early next year with the start of a fresh, new season. It seems like it's flown by. I'm so appreciative of all the guests that we've had on this show and our other VoiceFirst FM shows. It's been an incredible start to this network, and we're appreciative to everyone who's been involved.

 

Bradley Metrock: Not the least of which is our sponsor, Voice XP. Bob Stolzberg, Mark Tucker, who's on this show today, and the VoiceXP team have really executed to be a breakout software as a service company over the last year. They've been called one of the most innovative software companies in the space and they develop Alexa skills for enterprise business and brands. VoiceXP has been leading Alexa For Business and their customers include CenturyLink, Arizona State University and brands like Chingy the rapper. When your brand or business is ready to adopt voice, email demo@voicexp.com. We're going to include that link in the notes of the show. And say to Alexa, “start VoiceXP” to learn more. These guys are doing amazing work. We are very grateful for them. Check them out. Today we are very fortunate to have the original panel that we had from the very first episode of This Week In Voice. Ahmed Bouzid, who is keynoting the Alexa conference coming up in January, is joining us. Ahmed, say hello.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:01:45] Hello Bradley, and thank you very much, and congratulations on a fabulous year, my friend.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:49] Thank you very much. This has been fun. And I know Witlingo is doing incredible work, as well, Ahmed. Absolutely. Ahmed is CEO and founder of Witlingo, based in the D.C. area. Check them out. Ahmed, great to have you back.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:02:03] Thank you, sir.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:04] Our next guest is Brian Roemmele. Brian, say hello.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:02:07] Hello, Bradley. Congratulations, man. This has been an incredible journey. I absolutely love what you've built with VoiceFirst FM.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:15] It's been a fun ride, and Brian, I appreciate all of your help, as well. Brian is editor and publisher of Read Multiplex, a top selling app. Everybody who's listening to this hopefully has long since downloaded it by now. If not, go to ReadMultiplex.com and check that out. Brian, great to have you back on the show.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:02:34] Great to be back and I have some surprises for 2018. I'm building some amazing things that I know all of the listeners are going to love. So get ready. Get ready.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:45] I'm looking forward to hearing about that. And we also have Mark Tucker, principal engineer of VoiceXP. Mark, say hello.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:02:51] Hello. Congratulations Bradley. This is hard to believe that it's only been six months since the first episode, when I was on for the first time, I was doing Alexa for a hobby and trying to get into the space. And now I'm at VoiceXP. So I just love what's happening and how this market is expanding.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:03:15] Beautiful. And that's exactly what it's about, right? The market's expanding, and people who are drawn to the technology, and drawn to everything that voice-first represents, are finding employment with it and significance in their work. Mark, congratulations on that, and great to have you back on the show. We've got a couple of stories to lead off and then we're going to get into the main portion of this show, which will be a Year in Review. So with that, we'll get to the news. Our first story this week is our VoiceBot.AI story of the week. We're appreciative for the work that VoiceBot.AI has been doing in the space. They're reporting a lot of great news and presenting a lot of insightful commentary over the course of the year. We will continue with the VoiceBot.AI story of the week as we enter season two of next year. The story of the week this week, is that Amazon has revealed part of the way it's looking to deal with this YouTube/Google problem by enabling and promoting Amazon's acquisition Twitch on the Echo Show. And Mark, I'll start with you on this. Do you think this is enough to help Amazon deal with YouTube? Share with me your perspective on this as a mitigation strategy for Amazon.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:04:37] I think it's a start, but you compare 1.5 billion monthly, active users on YouTube versus 100 million on Twitch. It's definitely a start if Amazon grows Twitch to more of a YouTube competitor. Now, I can find lots of things that interest me on YouTube. It's more my teenage son that likes the Twitch channel.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:05:00] Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Mark. And one thing about Twitch, most people underestimate Twitch's reach. Twitch is really, really massive and it's a narrower demo than YouTube, of course. YouTube touches so many more people. People need to be careful about selling Twitch down the river, because it's a big deal in its own right. Ahmed, what did you think about this? Do you care about Twitch on the Echo Show? Is this a big deal, or what do you think?

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:05:35] Well, for anybody who knows me my position, it's pretty predictable. It's also a little bit disheartening for a company like Amazon, which claims that it's number one principle is customer obsession. It's not to figure out a way to work with Google, or to get YouTube out. And YouTube is what people use the most, and therefore it infringes on, it degrades the customer experience not to have YouTube. I don't believe they're sharing the Google Home on the on the Amazon store. That's their number two, the customer experience. If they are going to be the largest store on the earth, why are they not selling it? So I felt a little bit disheartened, to have these dynamics between these companies who are trying to create monopolies and vertical integrations, and so on. Leveraging each's assets to play strategy at the expense of customers. That's my take on this. I may be wrong, but that's my first reaction on all of this movement that I think is not putting voice first.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:06:46] I completely agree. And this reminds me so much of....my company has published several works into iBook store, through the Apple ecosystem, and this reminds me of the total stupidity that is Apple's policy that if you mention....and most people don't know this, but if you mention Amazon, Amazon.com, or any other of several key words that are associated with Amazon, in an iBook, in a book that is publishing to the iBook store, it's not going to be published. It's going to be held up, it's going to be rejected, until you remove that and Apple will tell you that. So it's just another one of the things.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:07:29] I didn't know that. That's awful.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:07:32] Yeah. And now this whole thing reminds me so much of that, these companies doing this petty stuff. Hopefully we get beyond that.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:07:41] Competitor censorship is not cool.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:07:45] No, it's not. No, it's not. And these companies....they're making enough money. If they think it's that strategic then that...

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:07:52] And on top of that, there's the is the deafening hypocrisy, because they all position themselves as being obsessed with customer experience. Apple says that, and so does Amazon. Obviously, there is this contrast between those words and their actions.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:08:09] Sure. And the funny thing is, with Apple, and not to go off on a tangent here, but Apple has a very political CEO, and yet, if there was a....if Rosa Parks or Maya Angelou wanted to publish a book into the iBook store. That book is not going to be published if it mentions Amazon.com. So that's sort of the state that we're at. Brian, any closing thoughts on this?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:08:39] Well, first off, I agree with Mark and Ahmed. Generally, this is something that makes absolutely no sense, like what Ahmed was saying there. There are ways to bridge the gaps. But on the other side of it, there is a highly competitive element between Google and Amazon for video. Google is existentially threatened, because they have not yet released their video screen version of the Google Home, which we'll see probably first, second quarter next year. So they want to be able to have the adulation of being the first to fully integrate the new version of YouTube. On the other side of it, Twitch is....actually, although the demographic is thinner, the monetization capability of the producers on the Twitch platform is significantly higher. YouTube has been playing games with monetization recently. They've demonetized some people who are just gamers that are joking around, taking things a little too seriously. You've got kids that are 16 and 17, and if you were 16 or 17 recording what you said, you could probably get demonetized. I would. I'm sure all of us would.

 

Brian Roemmele: So the bottom line is, Twitch is a little bit more open minded about that. They tell people, "Hey, listen. They're a bunch of kids talking while they're playing games." And that environment actually draws a lot of teens and early 20-year-olds into that platform, and it's doing very well. Now, how does that contend with the Echo products? It's not a perfect alignment. But I am pretty much willing to say, you're going to see an alignment between voice-first systems, and that psycho-demographic, the gamer demographic, coming out of Amazon in 2018 on a level that few have ever thought was possible. This sort of voice-first automation inside of live gaming environments is going to be very profound, and the interactivity inside of Twitch with an Alexa assistant will be profound. It's early days. I wish there was more involvement about getting this solved, but at the end of the day both brands are doing I think immeasurable harm to each other. Like in any war, there's no victor in this war. I think ultimately, at least short term, I think Google is actually getting more injured by them pulling YouTube off of the Amazon products. And that's my view.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:11:12] Yes, it's not positive. It's not a real high note for either of these companies.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:11:17] Not at all.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:11:18] Hopefully, us consumers are not going to be just spectators, that we will voice our discontent. I think us watching the titans clash and just commentating and so forth is not the way to engage. I think they listen to us. If Amazon, Google listens, hear from people about this bullshit that they are pulling against the consumer as if we were peons, in which we are, in a way, because the traditions have been limited so much that we can go to A, B, or C, and A, B, and C are cornering 80 or 90 percent of the market. But I think it's important for us to speak up and to say that we don't like this. I don't like it. Amazon, I don't like it. Google, I really don't like it. And so and if there aren't enough voices, and these guys when they hear from 10, they have their internal multipliers. They understand that 10 means X amount of people who have not voiced their discontent, given that the 10.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:12:19] And Ahmed, people like yourself....I've echoed the same thing. People like yourself, myself, Bradley, and Mark. We put this out, and we have an impact. I know that our voices have been heard. When you first put it out, and I first put it out, I have people internally in the company saying, "Oh boy, I didn't think this was going to be such a big deal." I'm like, "This is a huge deal." It's not a good practice.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:12:43] And I think the dynamic needs to change, that these people need to see that there are consequences and backlash.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:12:49] And along these lines, just to close this out, it just underscores the importance of the Alexa conference. I will insert a shameless plug. The Alexa Conference is an independent, third-party event where these sorts of issues can be raised. Everyone agrees Amazon's done a phenomenal job. We're going to get to that in the year in review. But if we're Amazon marketing hour, or some Amazon-owned event, chances are you wouldn't be getting 100% of the picture, and that's why we're so excited about the Alexa Conference. All the positives, as well as the challenges, and the things that have yet to be dealt with can be examined all together. So anyway, that's a great set of analysis for that story.

 

Bradley Metrock: I'm going to combine story number two and number three. Story number two is about Apple's acquisition of Shazam, which hopefully has something to do with Siri, because it would be a great addition to Siri. And that's sort of what Cathy Pearl and I discussed last week on the show. A good blueprint for Siri is to "acquire their way back into the fray". Story number three deals with Google Home Max being out. And it's receiving strong reviews, despite the high price. It's a really robust piece of hardware. So I'm combining these two stories to ask the panel, which one of these two companies is most poised, heading into 2018, to take on and take market share away from Amazon and the Echo line, as well as any other comments about either particular story you may have. Ahmed, I'm going to start with you.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:14:28] It's obvious. I think it's going to be Google. It is Google already. I think what people don't realize, perhaps, is that Google has a massive footprint on the Surfaces, on smartphones, on all Android devices, obviously. And so if you buy a Samsung OS, that you have the Assistant, in addition to the Bixby. So they are formidable in that sense, and in that, Amazon does not have a footprint. If you build an assistant on Google Home, it will be immediately....an Action, a Google Action. Google Assistant will be available on Google Home and all of these services. So that is not something that is trivial, that is huge. And I believe that they will definitely gain share. We at Witlingo were seeing a lot of incoming different brands. And I would say half of the brands want Alexa and Assistant, and some of them want only Assistant, which is interesting, it speaks to the dynamic between many companies, many big brands out there and Amazon. And I think we'll see more of that. I think we'll see more people saying, "Hey, maybe we want to be on Google first, or Google only." And the selling point that Google has, again, of our footprint is huge.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:15:49] I think that Shazam acquisition is a no-brainer for Apple. That should have went on probably a year or two in my view. It's a great opportunity for Apple to extend their entertainment powers. Internally, I think Apple is struggling with the real threat, and that threat is, do they fully realize that voice is its own platform? That in and of itself, voice is going to be independent, although it's going to be on other systems like Google Assistant, that Ahmed just brought up. But it's also going to be its own platform, and I think one of the reasons why we're not seeing the Apple device out this year is because they probably met themselves in a mirror and said, "What in heck are we doing? We're just doing a high fidelity speaker. The water is already ascending around us and we're at the point where there's nothing unique. So what are we doing with Siri? How is Siri going to work?" I think the biggest turning point for Apple is when it was leaked out that the iPhone needed to be tethered to make the Homepod be of any value. That is very ill conceived. So Apple is definitely learning, I hope. I hope 2018 and the things that I've heard around, is that they're taking it more seriously.

 

Brian Roemmele: Google receiving great reviews on Home Max. Absolutely. I think it is a really well conceived and well designed product. I think this particular space, the very high fidelity range, is going to grow very rapidly. There's going to be a lot of contenders in the market, and the fidelity levels are going to be mind blowing. I think that's where we're going to see a lot of the innovation. The thing about it is, until one, a product manager, or two, the executives at these companies realize that the music is a use case, but it's not the thing that's driving this engine. Anybody listening to this show, and all the panel members know that what's driving this use case is this new modality. I mean, Ahmed wrote a book about this a long time ago and we're at that point. 2018 is the inflection point, where not only just the manufacturers of these systems have to wake up to it, every single brand, every single company on the planet has to see how they aligned to this new platform. How did they get discovered? What does their brand look like? I mean, these are really large questions. And I got to say, it's a bigger question than when mobile took off. "What does our mobile strategy look like?" And it's probably equal, if not larger than, when the web first arrived. "What do we do on the web?" "What does our company look like on the web?" So all of this plays into that. But I think we can get distracted if we think this is a "smart speaker marketplace". I never use that terminology, well, I'm using it right now. Because it belies the fact of what's really going on. Does that make sense?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:18:50] Sure. So from what I hear you saying, Google is better positioned to take on Amazon heading into next year.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:18:57] Absolutely. I would say to such a level, that Apple has....and I'm an Apple fan. But Apple has a long way to go. Not that they don't have the technology or talent. I just don't think they're applying it correctly and it's a frustration of mine.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:19:10] Sure, I hear that. Mark, your thoughts?

 

Mark Tucker: [00:19:13] Yeah, just really quick. I want to agree with Ahmed and Brian in their analysis. Really, Apple set the bar with that high fidelity speaker, even setting a price. And they weren't able to make it, and Google matched Apple's call. So I think Google's very well positioned for next year.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:19:32] Very cool. So that is going to conclude our stories, as far as the entire year is concerned. It's been a pretty crazy year. Lots of stuff is happening. So I want to shift to looking at the year in review, and what I call report card time. This is going to be fun. So I want to take....I just listed six companies that have come up on the show from time-to-time for good reasons. If there's another one that you feel like mentioning feel free to throw that out. But what I think makes the most sense for this is....let's start backward with Alibaba. Give me your letter grade for the company's 2017 voice-first performance and one or two sentences on your justification for that. Let's start with Alibaba, and Brian, I'm going to start with you.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:20:26] Well Alibaba is doing incredibly well, in fact, in some ways, they're trailblazing. I would give them a letter grade of B, because I think that they have achieved some phenomenal use cases. I'm not giving them an A because I think the technology that they originally deployed under needed to be improved. And I think they kind of saw that. But I got to give them a lot of motivation for where they are at this point. I would think at this stage, they're probably one of the most individually-used, independent platforms out there. I mean Google, one could argue but that's across many different systems....online, Android, all these different things, and Google Home. So they are a solid B in my view on their way to....that they're working on continues to improve.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:21:23] Yeah, I give them a B as well. They've only been out for six months, but I think they're making great progress. And the 100,000 room Marriott hotel deal I think definitely puts them in the solid B category.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:21:38] And I give a B towards A. I think it's amazing what they've done in such a short period of time given that somebody like Apple has not been able to execute. So I'm really impressed.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:21:46] Excellent. So that's pretty good marks for them. Good deal. Let's talk about Samsung, and Mark, I'm going to start with you. Your letter grade and justification.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:21:56] For going flat letter grades, I guess I would do a B. I was thinking more in the B-minus  range. I think they finally overcame the English and the Bixby Button. But even looking on their sites as a developer, it's really hard to figure out how, as a developer, how we're going to help them grow this platform.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:22:16] I would have to give them....well, I'm separating them from Bixby, because they're not really merged yet. I would give Bixby a C right now, primarily because they do have Viv, which, in my view, is a solid A+. Yet, they haven't fully implemented it. In the last conference they started showing the beginnings of that. And that would have lifted them up from what....I would have given them a D this year. So they moved quite rapidly, because Dag was on the stage talking about how Viv is going to start to integrate. And I got to echo what Mark is saying. From a developer aspect, one doesn't know how one is to bring a brand in there. I have clients coming for me at all angles. "What should we do about Samsung?" And it's a very complex question. Now, I've moved some of these clients into that platform, and they're actually doing okay. But it's very difficult, and it's very hard. So they really....I would almost give their developer platform a D-minus. So they have a lot of opportunity. And I think as more of the Viv talent supersedes the Bixby original project, we're going to get them moving much faster, and much higher grades in 2018.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:23:28] I'm giving them an A mainly because they have come so far, so fast, to be honest with you. I just got my Android phone, sorry, Samsung phone and I have Bixby on it and I was surprised that it works a lot better than I thought. I guess I had low expectations. But I think just maybe its effort, perhaps, or being able to execute in such a hard space so fast. I would say it's an A, with caution, so to speak. Let's see what happens if they continue executing and improving. I think the potential is massive with the Samsung hardware play, in a sense. I think Samsung has a lot more hardware than Amazon, so they have definitely a big play there to integrate Bixby into those products. So I'm bullish, mainly because they have done so much in such little time.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:24:21] Excellent. So those are good grades, as well. We're not spilling a bunch of red ink here, at least yet. So hey, this is a good thing. And Ahmed, I'm going to start with you with Microsoft. Your letter grade thoughts?

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:24:34] I think Microsoft, I'll give them a C again. It's sort of the flip side of Samsung and Alibaba, that they had so much, and they have executed so little. Number one, I do not understand their strategy. They have 145 million endpoints with Cortana on it, and nobody would know that they did. I don't see them pushing, I don't see the energy. I don't see the vision, even though they had the full stack, and easily had a much bigger footprint than they do. So I'll give them a C at best.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:25:06] I'm going to say C, going into a B. I just read some stuff today about discoverability, skills suggest, skill chaining, and the Microsoft knowledge graphics change. I think it's kind of a sleeper for this year, and I'm optimistic that they'll do a better job next year.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:25:24] I'm going to give it a C+, and the release of the conversational Bing interface....it was announced yesterday. I've had experiences in seeing it in the wild. It moves that up from what would have been a central C, maybe almost a B, and I have to echo what Ahmed has said. They have this opportunity that is not being utilized. And again, this is vision, and it's management, the biggest problem in this industry is most of the players, other than Amazon, are sitting back and either reacting or failing to act, rather than acting, and trying to take advantage of the powers of their platform. And that goes across all of the companies we've already talked about, and ones that we're gonna talk about. So Microsoft, I think is on their way up. I think if they continue to listen to the right people, and continue to build in the right direction, they're going to do wonderfully. And like I said, I'm really encouraged what they're doing as being right now.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:26:27] It's hard to tell, from my standpoint, whether Microsoft deserves like an A or an F. Because the Cortana-Alexa integration was such a big story this year, and in the aftermath of that, I would defy anybody to tell me how Microsoft is leveraging that. They're first to the door with creating this sort of symbiotic, non-aggression pact with Amazon, for Cortana and Alexa to coexist, and yet it hasn't really been fully explained to us in the marketplace. I feel like....what that's going to mean for Microsoft or how they're leveraging that. So I don't know. For me,  I'm staying out of giving grades for the most part, or trying to, but I guess an "I" is what I would give them. I don't know what. Echoing what all three of you said, I don't know what to make of it. (all laugh)

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:27:25] And I personally wouldn't have announced the relationship unless it was material-deliverable that people can really bite into. I mean it is like, "Hey, we got this great idea." It should have been, "Look what we did together. Look what we built. And this is what we're going to build on."

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:27:43] So yeah, normally, I'm not one for a cop-out of giving a non-grade. But in this case I feel like it is somewhat warranted. Time will tell. We'll see what they've got in store for us in 2018. Next up is Apple, and Mark, I'm going to start with you. Your letter grade and thought process?

 

Mark Tucker: [00:28:03] I didn't really want to give anyone a D grade, but I'm going to go ahead and do it with Apple. If you don't show up to the final exam, which is Christmas season 2017, then you fail the class. I think that's what happened with Apple this year.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:28:18] Great metaphor. I completely agree. Brian, your thoughts?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:28:24] I'm stuck. I'm going to give it a C - minus , and it's mostly because I know what Apple is capable of internally. And like I said, it's going to sound like a broken record. It's the failure of vision and execution. It's the "follow the person in front of you". It's "how does this affect iPhone sales". And that's the biggest problem with Apple today. And again, with younger companies, this stuff wouldn't have happened. They would have executed. There would have been a product. Like Mark said, it is really heartbreaking to see Apple pre-announce something and not deliver it. It is hearkening back to the the last decade of Apple, of the 90s. Before Steve Jobs came back. I'm not saying that's where they are today, but I'm saying that's what was starting to happen to Apple. And it's sort of a directionless kind of thing. I understand the premises, and I hope the reason that I understand it's being delayed is correct. But yeah, it is. Let's give it a C-minus.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:29:32] The Homepod feels a lot like vaporware, doesn't it? It feels like it's easily a product that we may never see.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:29:40] That's what I really feel. I saw it in the flesh, and it sounds phenomenal. But the fact that they are not taking it seriously as a new platform is the biggest thing that I think the average person is going to really be insulted with. We already know what Amazon Alexa is like. It's not like they're coming into a vacuum. And that is the minimum you have to be able to give. And if you don't give that, and you're not on time, you're pretty bad in class.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:30:16] You'd invite a lot of questions. You'd buy a lot of scrutiny for sure. Ahmed, your thoughts.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:30:21] Well I'm not going to be as nice as Brian and Martin. I'm going to give them a big F, for just failing miserably. I mean, this is Apple. And when Apple says it will deliver something, they should deliver it. Or they should not announce that you can't use the Homepod without your iPhone. It's just a disaster, as far as I'm concerned. Anyway I think it's an F. It's a clear F as far as I'm concerned. I think hopefully next year, when they get their act together, it will be a formidable force. I think for sure. No one should ever underestimate Apple. Right now, I think they are hopefully at the lowest point as far as this is concerned.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:31:02] Can you get below an F on your grades?

 

Mark Tucker: [00:31:06] You'd get kicked out of school. You're out of here.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:31:12] Yeah, that's a great analysis. I think they're the definition of an F student in my mind right. What does an F student do? Like, sleeps through class, makes promises, doesn't deliver. And then let's not leave out the last step, trying to buy their way back. You know, Daddy gets the wallet out.

Mark Tucker: [00:31:32] Oh my God.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:31:33] And starts spending money. And that's what Tim Cook, assuming he's still there, whoever it is, he's got to get the wallet out and get the student back.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:31:43] It's a failing rich student.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:31:45] Yeah, that's right. So yeah, it's a sad state of affairs but hey, what can you do?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:31:53] If buying Shazam is their way back into the voice platform, it's all over. It's all over. I can tell them 20 companies they need to buy right now. Apple needs to buy companies. There's no doubt.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:32:08] Yeah, I completely agree. We'll see what 2018 has in store for them. So next up is Google and Ahmed, I'm going to start with you. Your letter grade for them and thoughts on them?

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:32:22] I'm going to give them a B+, going into an A. This is mainly because I really am impressed by how much they have done in such a little amount of time. For sure, if you were to compare the number of Actions that are deployed versus number of Skills, and all that. I think they clearly do not match the numbers. But I think the number game that Amazon is playing is a number game. I'll ask you guys how many Skills you use on a regular basis. What is it, two, five? I don't use more than a couple. So besides that, I think they have done quite a good job in terms of their STK, in terms of their partner handling. I think Amazon is fantastic as well. But I think that given where they were at the end of 2016, and where they are end of 2017, I think they deserve the accolades.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:33:14] Good points by that. You know, I have to give Google a B. It should be an A. But the reason they're a B is....we'll talk about this with Amazon, I've talked about it in prior shows. All these companies are basing things around skills and abilities. And anybody who has listened to me knows, that that is a dead end. There is no roadway. Go down that road a hundred miles an hour. I'm coming back. I'm telling everybody there's a dead end. Skills are not the future. The way this is all going to build is neuronal. It's going to be neuron connections, and that takes a complete rethinking of how all developer ecosystems are going to interface with these devices. Whether they do it the way I say it, or they experiment around with it, it's going to happen that way. There's no doubt about it. Why? There's only so much of so much of a domain space, there's only so many words you can use to invoke something. There's only so much Scratch Pad memory in the human mind to remember "OK, how do I ask it to do X or Y? Is it going to constantly suggest to me what I need to do?" This is not the answer, folks.

 

Brian Roemmele: Google had the opportunity to do that because they own a knowledge graph, and they're not doing it because of again a failure of leadership. They lost some incredibly powerful people this year in voice, and for a number of different reasons. And that's a big mark against that company. My view is this: Can Google recover? Absolutely. It's 2018 that time? It should be, and it better be. Because even though they have the biggest use case, they can very well be marginalized by Amazon to such a degree. And even Apple, and definitely Alibaba. There's no doubt about it that they can actually be a third player, or even a fourth player if Microsoft pushes it. And that's not the position Google should be at. If I had my way, I'd be connecting Google products and stitching these things together in a way that would be dynamic, that would show a future path for developers, because guess what? In 2018, there's going to be developer remorse on all these platforms. It's coming. You know how pro I am at this platform. But every day, all of us working around it, we're going to reach a level where it's not returning investor money. It's not producing what it should be producing. The sales aren't coming where they should be coming from. What happened? And what happened was discoverability, the proper monetization, and this whole idea of invocation.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:35:41] I'm sorry. So just to engage Brian on this point, which is an important point. I don't think there is a solution that we can just draw up on the board. I think the solution will emerge as we do. As we do, which is what we're doing right now. We're doing, right. It's good that we have a platform when we have the thing called a Skill and the Skill is the thing that is a conversation. How does a Skill get invoked? Well that's a problem, right? A problem that needs to be solved. We have a paradigm right now that wouldn't solve it, but I don't think we need to do a paradigm shift. I don't think it's go a hundred miles down the street and come back. I think we are going to go down, and we're going to go left or right or up or down. But I think the solution is going to emerge as we define the problems in a concrete way, as opposed to drawing something up and saying, "Let's throw everything away and let's go and start from scratch."

 

Ahmed Bouzid: I think it will emerge dialectically, so to speak. As we engage with the real world. For example, discovery. How does one discover how to do something. Voice, right? Well voice or an interface that's voice, does not exist in the ether, right? It exists in a world, and that world can have signifiers, or things that tell you how to engage with the voice version of the experience. The website has its voice presence, and so does the mobile app, and so does this and that and the magazine has a mobile voice presence. And from those various points and channels, voice will have its place, and the invisibility of voice will be compensated a certain extent. All of that, all of this, is just brainstorming. And my point, my basic point is that we will figure it out and the only way that we figure out is by doing and acting and failing and so on. And we cannot act and fail without a starting point. I think this is where we are, and hopefully we'll get to the right solution as we engage.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:37:47] I agree. And with that, you make a very solid point. I'm not against experimentation. I'm not against where we have come. All I'm saying is a company like Google, and that's why I'm basing this on Google. A company like Google has the opportunity to muster the AI talent and the knowledge graph in such a way that they can overcome some of these obstacles. Amazon is on the Skill paradigm. Google doesn't need to be in that sort of box, and of course, they're not fully in that box but they're heading in that direction slightly more and more. And I don't think that is the gravity we need to go in as developers and as people who are recommending....I talk to brands all the time, and they are flummoxed by this stuff. They know they need to be on these platforms. They know they need to somehow build their brand within these platforms. But they also know, logically, after being in technology....some of these folks have been in there for many, many decades, that there is a dead end. I talk to clients all the time they say, "Why aren't they seeing it?" I try to ring the bell.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:38:51] Yeah, you make a good point, Brian, that the monetization that Amazon brought to the table this year really....it puts a clock on what Google's doing in sort of an interesting way. Either they've got to step up and offer those sorts of things so developers can get a return, or they've got to take an entirely different direction. And Mark, I want to shift to you, just to close this out with Google. Do you agree with what Brian and Ahmed are saying? What's your letter grade for Google and your thoughts?

 

Mark Tucker: [00:39:21] Yeah. So a couple quick comments before I give a letter grade for Google. I'm saying B+ , on the way to an A-minus. I think next year it's really going to be a battle for who's going to be the valedictorian here, Amazon or Google. To look at it a different way, our family sometimes watches the reality TV show Survivor, and the model for that show is outwit, outplay, outlast. And if outwit is the technical features, outplay is how you spin the marketing and the media, and outlast the long term strategy. I think Google's done a really good job of this last year outwitting and outplaying Amazon. But I think Amazon's up for the challenge.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:40:06] I think that's great. It's great analysis all the way around. I think Google has had a particularly strong end of the year. The Walmart partnership, their advertising. I think they've made some strong affirmative steps in the right direction. And the analogy in my head is, Wile E. Coyote realizes there's an anvil about fall on his head, and he pulls out this little umbrella. (all laugh) He really does. And it provides no resistance whatsoever. Like in this case, Wile E. Coyote is the rest of the tech industry, and the anvil is Amazon.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:40:45] Who's Roadrunner?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:40:48] Good question I hadn't thought about that. You thought too far ahead.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:40:50] Maybe Amazon is Roadrunner!

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:40:52] I think Amazon's the anvil about to drop on everybody's head. But the thing about it is that Google has done a good job. Google is in this strange situation of operating constantly in the shadow of Amazon. The deafening noise of Amazon in the marketplace. And Google has to try to cut through, and they haven't been completely drowned out heading in to 2018.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:41:15] It reminds me of how they were able to just quietly takeover the market with Apple in terms of the market share. Right? Apple....and the Android is an open platform more or less. And right now there are more Android devices than, I believe, iPhones.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:41:36] Sure. So to me I think you have to give Google a pretty high grade for withstanding the absolute relentless assault that Amazon has provided. I would give them an A -  if it were me. Because they are in pretty good shape heading into 2018. Let's close this part out. We're talking about Amazon, and Mark, I'm going to start with you. Your letter grade for Amazon and your thoughts.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:42:00] I think an A, maybe an A-minus. I think they're doing great things, overall. They're still the leader in this. There's a number of things on the developer side that I hope will be improved here this next year.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:42:14] Like what?

 

Mark Tucker: [00:42:15] Well there's a number of features that I've been asked for, for a long time. Notifications have been slow coming out. I think it will finally come out next year. To do personalization, voice profiles, that is coming out. But there's a number of features like I personally have asked for simple things, like figuring out what time zone a request is coming from, and so that you can say good morning or good night. And that's just not part of it. And for some reason, it's so low on the list that it's not coming out.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:42:43] OK. Good deal. Ahmed, your thoughts?

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:42:48] So if you had asked me in 2016, I would have said A+ because they took this thing called the Echo and made it mainstream, which is very hard to do, even for a company like Amazon. They delivered something amazing. And it just took off. And they single-handedly created a category. I do believe that if it were not for Amazon, we would not be where we are today. I mean, everything is contingent as well. And there was no reason whatsoever that such a thing as a far-field device would not emerge for the longest time. Somebody like me in the speech world forever. Speech is around the corner. There was a company called Nuance that just was not innovative, and it just killed the competition and so on, and sued companies that threatened its space and so on. So it took somebody like Amazon to come in and just do it, and leave somebody like Nuance in the dust. So I'm very glad and happy.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: And 2017....I think Amazon has done a fantastic job. But I think part of what has been driving them in 2017 is just this obsession with creating a narrative of domination. That they are the place to go. And they have done all kinds of things along those lines. For example, just pushing on Skills, going after numbers as opposed to quality. Getting all these devices out there with all these multiple form factors. Why? Why would you do that? They're creating many price points, and creating confusion in the market. But so I get people asking me, "What should I buy? A Dot, or that or that or a Dat? What do I buy?" I mean, we've seen this happen with Apple, and the post pre-shot, where there was confusion in the market because you had so many devices. And that's sort of the runs counter to Amazon's number one principle, which is customer obsession. You're not obsessed with the customers by creating confusion into what to buy. You're not obsessing with the customer. If you are not providing, if you're not using your resources to provide developers with what Mark was listing, those are basic things! They should have given us that a long time ago.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: For us to be able to build quality Skills. If you're not able to do an outbound notification. There's a whole world of value that is being kept from us because we don't have our notifications. Finally we're getting it, and so on. That's fantastic! Enabling of payments and so on, all that stuff speaks to quality, and they've taken a lot of their energies in doing strategy, right? Dominating and so on. And I'll leave you with this point, because I think it's an important point. Imagine, say five years from now, going into a hotel room and imagine that we now consider it to be part of our lives to speak to devices, to speakers. Imagine that it is expected for you to say, "X, what's the weather out tomorrow?" Or "What's on my calendar?" So imagine when you go to a hotel room this is what you expect to be able to do, just like you today, you go to a hotel room, and you expect to see a remote control. You expect a TV, you turn the TV on. You expect to see CNN and C-SPAN and so on and so forth. You expect that. Now imagine that world. Would you, as a user, feel that it's a good experience, when you get into that room to see that device is an Echo, so I'm going to say Alexa. Or that device is a Google. No! You would expect to be able to just engage it.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: Therefore, I think that this conception of somebody dominating....either Amazon is going to win. Everything that's out there that's voice enabled is Alexa, and that's it. It's the end. And it's one provider, which will be sad. Or I'm going to go to a world where we have sort of an open - voice web where there is convention or there's a way that you engage with devices. And just like when you go to a TV, and you turn it on, and you don't care if it's a Sony or if it's whatever it may be, and you don't care who the provider is, whether it's Comcast, you expect to see your CNN and all that. I think I'm going to go towards that world. And so this thing that's going on right now where, these people are playing these games and trying to dominate and all that, is really a little bit disappointing. And I don't know what the solution is. Is it going to be where we are going to go towards that vision of one unified interface and so forth, or somebody's going to dominate, or are we going to change our indication?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:47:31] This entire thought process reminds me again of the publishing universe where you've had people for as long as I can possibly remember saying the same thing about the Kindle ecosystem versus the iBooks ecosystem to a much lesser degree, and in some other ecosystems saying, "Man, I wish I could download a digital book and have it readable on any device." You know, back in 2000, someone was probably saying that and I think that sort of has made me believe, as well as many other things, that the world sort of gravitates to closed ecosystems rather than open. I'm not saying it's right or wrong but it will be interesting to watch.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:48:20] In the case of voice, because the voice is invisible and therefore you're not going to get the affordance to know what to do and what to say. So, for example, I think it's OK that we have a duopoly, when it comes to the OS and the mobile OS, because it's your device and you can configure it, and you live with it, and you know what it does. But when you get into a room, or a conference room, wherever it may be. You don't have that luxury of knowing what to say and what to do, and therefore I think the imperative to sort of have a common universal way of engaging with these devices is going to be more and more promising.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:48:52] Well, you're right, you can't fully have....the smart speakers can't disappear into the ether, into the hardware, and the furniture, and electronics around you if you don't know who you're talking to here. So that is an interesting subplot to watch as this all evolves. Brian, what is your letter grade for Amazon and your thought process?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:49:12] Well, first off, Ahmed made some incredible points, and I'm all for that. And I think all of the things are going to develop simultaneously. I know of a number of companies working on independent platforms. There's two stealth companies that are absolutely fascinating the world as they start getting some traction. Finally, some venture capitalists are beginning to see this. And finally, maybe some ICOs will fund some of these ideas that VCs were not supporting before. So 2018 is going to be very interesting on getting on. As far as a letter grade, I have to give Amazon a straight letter A. And primarily because this year they did bring about some form of monetization, and that took a lot of courage to do that. Now, why do I say courage? Because it really is shooting in the dark. It really is, "How do we get these developers to stay in the ecosystem? How do we get quality to go up?"

 

Brian Roemmele: And to Mark's point, we really, really need to work on making the tools phenomenally better. Not just a couple of things like time zones, and things like that. There's phenomenal things that can be done. And why is it so frickin' difficult to load things up and to get development done? This is ridiculous and whoever comes up with this idea to make the barrier too hard, so that the developer is serious enough, or technically savvy enough is absolutely not paying attention to where real creativity happened. Real creativity happened in the programming space, when people stopped doing machine coding, stopped doing assembly language, and started creating higher order languages. And when Xcode came out, people were saying, "This is a child's toy. This is too easy. You're making it too easy for app developers." You know, at the end of the day, one of the things that I hope I see all these companies do is bring these tools down to a level where anybody can develop on it. Now some people might feel like, "Oh boy, that'll open up less quality." Now I think what you wind up getting is more creativity. You'll start seeing things that we've never seen before. And the reason I say that is when the Macintosh first was delivered, one of Steve's things was to try to open it up so the graphics designers can start taking a controlling interest in its direction, and Ahmed has been a big champion of this idea, of creatives coming into this market. You do not have creatives when you have to go and try to prevision AWS to try to get an app to work.

 

Brian Roemmele: So that is something I lay on a team to not make it into another Kindle-type platform. And I think we can almost say they aren't with that Microsoft relationship, unless they already knew that it wasn't going to go anywhere. I think what we can learn is, what AOL did and what CompuServe did. When they opened up their email platforms to the greater Internet, they wanted their silos, but when they did that, it sparked a revolution. Now it de-emphasized AOL, because there was, again, failure of vision, failure of management. The AOL teams there, they owned the messenger service. In fact Twitter, the entire concept of Twitter was based on the away message. And so a lot of the things about legacy companies.... We got to be careful. We think that they might dominate, and if we went back in time, we would say, "Oh, AOL is going to own everything." In reality, they thought that. But what happened is, the world passed it by. And this could be true for Amazon, also. So I give Amazon high grades. They absolutely, like Ahmed said, defined this space they invented it, and you've got to give Jeff Bezos, I think, an A+, as an executive, to actually drive people to do this and to build one of the largest armies I've ever seen in technology, around one product. I mean, they're approaching 10,000 Army, just working on Alexa. Now, again, we're complaining about developer tools. Let's see what they do in 2018. I think we're going to start seeing some amazing things.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:53:08] Well, they're certainly providing incredible market leadership. And it's been fun to watch them, and they're moving at a pace, that I've said before, I feel is historic. It's almost unprecedented. And they....I don't think there's a Voice First FM that has nearly the listenership that this network has without what they're doing. So I'm grateful for a lot of stuff that they're doing. They're trying new things. They're not afraid to fail in keeping up their blitzkrieg pace. So I would give them an A+. Actually, I'm going to give them an A. The reason I don't give them an A+....you know, Voice First FM was criticized for not having enough women on our shows, which is something that we rapidly moved to do something about when someone made that criticism, and it was very early on.

 

Bradley Metrock: But Amazon, and it's been written about, Amazon has a lot of women doing great work with the Alexa platform. We've tried repeatedly to get them on this network, and on this show, and other shows and we have gotten a lot of crickets chirping. So we would love to have Amazon express themselves a little bit more and share with us and the growing voice ecosystem their thoughts and philosophies on things. So hopefully in 2018, we can accomplish that. Outside of that one pretty minor criticism, they're providing a lot of leadership. They're doing a lot of great things. I'm looking forward to their 2018. We will move on and we will keep this as succinct as possible. I'm going to give each of the panel one minute to share each person's most exciting development of 2017. Their worst development, as far as voice is concerned, they're most disappointing development, and then the single most important story line. You've got 60 seconds to cover each of these three things. And Mark, I'm going to start with you. Hit me with your thoughts.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:55:09] OK, this is going to be fast. So I think some of the important things that happened in this 2017 was the Echo Show. I think it was a great device. We're showing that to a number of customers with demos, and almost 90 percent of the people that we show that to, when we go on to the development phase for their stuff, want to go ahead and do a presence with the Echo Show as well. So I think that's huge. Another one is Alexa For Business. I think that is going to be a game changer. I wouldn't be surprised that this is part of my storyline for next year. If we hear a storyline along the lines of Google Assistant goes to work. I think that's an important aspect, the enterprise, to hit. Worst development or most disappointing. I guess, personally, on the VoiceXP side, we went ahead and tried to roll out Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads. We didn't get a lot of good feedback in the marketplace from that. But now that monetization is in place, we're looking forward to a good next year with being able to sell products and services through the Alexa platform. So that's that's my summary for this year and next.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:56:24] Excellent. Thank you for that. Ahmed, your thoughts with those three things?

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [00:56:30] Yeah. So I think the most exciting development this year is the Alexa For Business arrival. That's going to be definitely a game changer in taking Alexa to the office and beyond. I think the worst and most disappointing development this year is the Cortana-Alexa alliance. It's just makes no sense. The immediate effect that it had on a company like us was you just pause on developing Cortana skills. It made no sense. And I think the single most important storyline heading into 2018 is Apple pausing on their device. I think that is just a red flag. So we need to watch what happens at Apple's side in 2018, hopefully. And I believe they will recover but it's going to be interesting to see how they do it.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:57:20] Excellent. Thank you for that. And Brian, your thoughts.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:57:23] Well I'm going have to....the most exciting development is head-and-head on the Echo Show and monetization from Amazon. I think those are the most important aspects and they are equal in my view. And runner-up is going to be Viv coming into the marketplace beginning. Most disappointing thing of the year is most definitely Apple. Apple could have done a whole lot in 2017. So I'm looking forward to what they can do in 2018. 2018, I'm going to have to give it two things and that is voice and block chain merging. By the end part of 2018, we're going to see ways that the block chain and transactional systems and voice working together. I'm going to be the first to say it, a lot of people aren't thinking this direction but I can tell you things that I'm very close to are going to be approaching that and it's going to be phenomenal. The other thing is very much like what Mark brought up and I've talked about this for a very long time, seven years into this. It's when enterprise finally understands what voice means to productivity amongst employees, productivity around customers, and not a phone tree not a 1-800 type system. Real true AI, voice-driven AI, delivered to everybody's headset when they're around a retail space, or they're on the phone or other types of scenarios. We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and I'm going to telegraph some of the things that I'm going to be doing that are related to that in 2018.

 

Mark Tucker: [00:58:56] I think for Alexa For Business....I know Amazon enjoys counting skills. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw headline Alexa For Business private skills hit 20,000 for 2018. I think a lot of developers are going to be able to jump in. I know VoiceXP is bracing themselves to be a leader in that aspect and are already meeting with customers and delivering this functionality to them. Even this week.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:59:22] Yeah, I'm going to echo what Mark said. I sat down with, in August,....with five different enterprise companies, before it was announced that Amazon was going this direction, and they were already hitting the ground running to build incredible, incredible opportunities and applications inside these voice systems. And these are multi-million dollar scenarios. These are companies that are committing literally in one case maybe hundreds of millions of dollars into these contracts to get them done. So it's going to be huge, and monetization, the way it's going to be doing on the Amazon platform or the Google platform for enterprise, is going to be tricky. That's one of my biggest quagmires in working with these larger companies, is how they're going to try to make that work. What will solve those problems?

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:00:14] All of that is excellent analysis and I echo a lot of what you all said. I think the monetization is such a huge development, but it even goes a step further beyond that. It's the fact that Amazon showed the agility and the intelligence, the market intelligence to act on that. We've been beating that drum since the show...

 

Brian Roemmele: [01:00:39] The first show, Bradley! We said monetization and they did it! And I am really excited that Amazon moved so quickly.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:00:47] And it's the fact that they can move quickly. But also, you've got to be listening. Do you know what I mean? If you're not listening, then it doesn't matter how quickly you move, if you don't know what direction to go in.

 

Brian Roemmele: [01:00:58] They definitely heard us.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:01:01] I agree. I think they did. And I think that's very exciting to see a company able to listen to feedback, and then not necessarily accepted at face value, because there's a lot of context that we don't have, but to understand, and to have the wisdom. That's the correct word. The wisdom on what to do to lead the marketplace. I think that's the biggest development for me. Most disappointing? I completely agree. It's Apple. We've got Amazon and Google sort of chasing after Amazon's tail. And those two juggernauts doing their thing is creating such incredible market force. Imagine if you had a third competent juggernaut adding to that tailwind, it would add a lot to the market. It would move voice evolution even faster. I think it's disappointing that we have not been able to enjoy that so far. The biggest storyline I think is what VoiceFirst FM is about. It's showing this incredibly healthy ecosystem of all these different companies doing all these different things. Just like this garden of organizations and opportunities that have arisen, and it's so empowering, this voice-first movement, to enable entrepreneurs, and all the way up to the the biggest of big companies, to act in the marketplace in new and exciting and interesting ways. So I'm looking forward to seeing what all of y'all and everyone listening comes up with in 2018, and having people on VoiceFirst FM, and telling those stories. So thank you Brian, Ahmed, and Mark for this time today, as well as 20 episodes ago. I really appreciate it.

 

Mark Tucker: [01:02:54] Thank you Bradley.

 

Brian Roemmele: [01:02:56] Yeah, Bradley.

 

Ahmed Bouzid: [01:02:57] Happy holidays and a Happy New Year to everyone.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:02:59] Absolutely. It's been a great year, 2018 holds an incredible amount of promise for the three of y'all, as well as for everyone listening, who's getting into voice. It's going to be exciting to see. For This Week In Voice. Thank you for listening. And until next season, beginning in January.

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