Top news stories for Season 2, Episode 2 (January 25, 2018):

1) ALEXA CONFERENCE WRAP-UP

1a) Great write-up from Dave Kemp (Futurear): The Alexa Conference Blew My Mind

1b) Official summary from The Alexa Conference

1c) Live announcement of new voice-technology business venture between Score Publishing and Brian Roemmele will be made on this episode of This Week In Voice

2) Apple announces a HomePod release date of February 9. Who's going to buy?

3) Alexa takes sides in the upcoming Super Bowl.

4) Voicebot.AI Story of the Week: Google Home outpacing Amazon Echo in search trends, both within US and abroad, over last 90 days

5) The Smart Voice Summit is next week! In Paris!

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Panel for Season 2, Episode 2 (January 25, 2018):

Katie Ernst is founder and CEO of Select A Story.

Transcript:

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:12] Hi and welcome back to This Week In Voice, Episode Two for Season Two. Today is Thursday, January 25, 2018. We are very pleased to have as our guest on the show today, Katie Ernst. Katie, say hello.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:00:31] Hello, how are you?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:33] I'm good and thank you very much for setting the time aside to be part of this with us, and I enjoyed getting to meet you last week at the Alexa Conference.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:00:43] Yes, same here.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:44] Katie is founder and CEO of Select A Story. Katie, tell us what that is.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:00:51] Select A Story publishes interactive audio books. Choose your own adventure books that you can talk to for Amazon Alexa and Google Home, eventually, although we're not there yet. We also publish them in print and e-book version as well.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:10] That's very cool. Publishing aspects, publishing uses of voice technology, I'm a big fan of obviously, and what you're doing is fantastic. We've got to figure out a way to get you to Digital Book World this fall and show off some of what you're doing, and then obviously at the Alexa Conference next year as well. Thank you very much for setting this time aside.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:01:39] No, thank you for having me.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:41] And with that, let's get to the news. Story number one this week is the Alexa Conference. It was a fantastic event, doubled the attendance over last year which is hard to do considering it's in a new permanent home. I've been part of many events in my life. When you move an event and you establish it as a permanent home, that sort of resets things and you have to grow it all over again. I'm very pleased with the turnout, very pleased with how the event unfolded, very pleased with the camaraderie, the community, all of it. We were just so fortunate that it turned out the way it did.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:16] I want to get into a little bit of it, but we have an announcement to make and we've got a special guest joining us, Brian Roemmele. Brian, say hello.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:02:25] Hello Bradley, how are you doing?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:26] I'm doing good Brian so thank you for setting a little bit of your time aside just to pop on the podcast real quick, and the both of us collaborate in making this announcement. You and I, you and Score Publishing, will partner together on a new venture called Voice First Reviews and it's going to be at VoiceFirstReviews.com. There's a problem in the marketplace with voice technology and that problem is discoverability, and to a lesser extent there's a problem of vetting Alexa skills, Google Home applications, and various voice applications. There's no, yes sure there is Amazon reviews or whatever, but there's no credible third party that's out there reviewing these things, getting the developers involved, and shining a spotlight on the best of the many many many many many voice applications getting created. So Brian, you and I will partner together to produce short, we'll say short reviews, in which the developer of the application can provide a recorded audio demo and then you and I will talk through our take on the Alexa skill or the Google Home application or whatever.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:03:51] We will publish that as part of VoiceFirst.FM programming. We will append either to This Week In Voice or the VoiceFirst Roundtable or different shows. We'll have these VoiceFirst reviews integrated, probably at the end of certain episodes, but we will also have transcripts of these reviews posted to VoiceFirstReviews.com. Over time we anticipate that this website will become a very valuable resource for users, but also it will become precious real estate for people who want to raise awareness of what they're doing.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:04:27] Absolutely Bradley, I think it's a perfect time for this because we're approaching so many skills that are out there. I mean the number keeps changing. There's certainly enough out there where getting a firsthand presentation by the developer, I mean I envision it, whether it's the entrepreneur or the founder, the tech lead, whoever, somebody who is a spokesperson for the company comes on gives you the basic elevator pitch for the skill and then gives you an interactive demo of it and does it in a concise way, easily around five minutes, and then us kind of giving an overview.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:05:08] Not very verbose, which is hard for me but you know a minute or two, trying to explain how we see it sitting in the marketplace. I think it's a very valuable thing, not only hear why the developers are so excited, why they've dedicated their time to build this, but maybe to actually hear what it sounds like. The biggest problem is when you're trying to figure out what to interact with you don't really have a demo, and that may be coming but you know there's nothing that's going to be the actual creator of the skill itself so I'm excited.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:05:42] It's not a big thing, it's a side project for all of us, but I think it is ultimately going to be a big thing in the market. I think it's going to really turn out to be a very valuable resource.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:05:54] Absolutely, it's a side project but it's going to be a fun one. So if you are listening to this episode and you have an Alexa skill, you've got a Google Home action, you've got some sort of voice application that you've done, reach out to us. We are going to be working really quickly and efficiently to put together an initial batch of reviews. Feel free to reach out to me. You can do it on Twitter, you can reach out to me via e-mail and my e-mail is bradley@scorepublishing.us and let us hear from you and we'll figure out a way to get you on the docket.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:06:30] Absolutely, and I encourage anybody with a skill, or even something that they're working on right now, there's no there's no downside to launching on this platform. I really see it as a possibility of being a launch platform for any of the major skills that are going to come down the pike. We're going to give you exposure and we're going to give you feedback. I've been working in the voice sector pretty much for 30 odd years, and I can give you some really incredible insights on the skill even before we record. Between the two of us, I think we can offer a lot of some consulting along the way, but definitely exposure.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:07:08] Well the insight that people are going to get from you is well worth any amount of money, but from my standpoint we're going to bring VoiceFirst.FM into the equation and really help amplify the message that these skill developers want to get out there. We're going to really make it easy to get initial users and things of that nature when you're launching an Alexa skill and stuff like that. So I've been in voice for about eight months Brian, but I can still tell somebody that their Alexa skill is garbage, does that help?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:07:44] Certainly, you know the thing about it is we have a very activated community and certainly from the Alexa Conference we saw the attendees there very active, very in focus community. I think launching your skill and exposing your skills to this community first, you're going to a lot of influencers; you're going to have a lot of people that talk about it. a lot of people have covered other media. So it's a great way to get the exposure and it's unfiltered. You get to speak basically almost the entire time about why the skill is interesting. You can't get that from a static icon sitting at Amazon's website. So you're going to be able to really sell why we need to download or activate or invoke your skill.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:08:23] Sure, absolutely it's going to be fun. Brian, thank you for jumping on and to share this moment. It's going to be fun to kick this thing off and we will be kicking it off in February, so look for that.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:08:39] Awesome and thank you.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:08:39] So that is the news that we wanted to make on this episode, the launch of VoiceFirstReviews.com coming out of the Alexa Conference. We've also included a great write up from Dave Kemp of FutureYear, who was in attendance at the Conference to read, as well as our official summary.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:08:54] Katie you and I met at the Alexa Conference and we were so fortunate to have you there. Share with me your takeaways from the Alexa Conference. Did you enjoy yourself? Tell me what you thought.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:09:06] Oh my goodness I had such a wonderful time. First of all of course I learned so much from all of the presenters that were there, but also the biggest thing was just meeting all of the people. There are so many companies that are doing so many interesting and unique things with voice, and then also just so many people like Dave Kemp who you're talking about. He comes from a background of doing hearing aid related things, and he sees the future where hearing aids are going to have voice-first type technology integrated into the hearing aid. It was just so fascinating to talk to so many different people about the different types of technologies and different types of domains that voice-first technology is really going to make a huge difference. So I really appreciated that.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:09:58] One of the great things about conferences, and the Alexa Conference specifically for voice, is that people don't realize all the implications for voice technology across all these different sectors. You can talk about it all day, but until you're hearing practitioners in different fields talk about here's what voice technology is going to do for us in healthcare, here's what voice technology is going to do for us in publishing, here's what voice technology is going to do for us in marketing consumer goods.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:10:27] You know it just makes it so much more real and it's fun to bring together subject matter experts. One of my favorite talks was Katie McMahon of SoundHound, she did a phenomenal job. I don't have any clue how they haven't been acquired yet. I'm sure their day is coming, just a very compelling demo of their technology. The Fireside Chat with Brian Roemmele, who was just joining us, was very insightful. Just are a lot of great talks, a lot of great panels. I was very pleased to have the Federal Trade Commission and Mark Eichorn join us, that was eye opening. So we're looking forward to next year and we hope that you join us next year.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:21:19] Oh absolutely, I will definitely be there. I was so thankful to be there, echo everything you said and I just really liked what Dave Kemp had to say about how context is king with voice and that going forward, the thing that really stuck out to him in his write up, and the thing that really stuck out to me there at the conference, was when Katie McMahon demoed SoundHound. It is just amazing what they can do. I love Alexa and I also have a Google Home and I love Google Assistant, but to be able to see her demo SoundHound and to show off how you can talk to it so naturally. You can say something, it'll say something back to you and then you can speak back to it again, in a very natural way, and it understands the context of what you were talking about it. This might sound corny but like it almost made me tear up because it was so impressive and it made me feel like, oh my gosh this is the future.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:22:22] I completely agree, and it was just phenomenal to watch her demo that and show off the specificity of what SoundHound technology is able to do. I'm also going to give a shout out to the crew from VoiceXP, as people who listen to our podcast know, VoiceXP has been the sponsor of VoiceFirst.FM for some time. We're pleased to announce that they are continuing that sponsorship with us. They're going to be the presenting sponsor of This Week In Voice and the VoiceFirst Roundtable throughout 2018. So we're very excited about that, but Bob and Mark Tucker and Bonnie Snyder and Matthew Mills, the whole VoiceXP crew, really represented that company well. They were very enthusiastic in meeting people. They had a great session that they led in their VoiceXP birthday party that was the official entertainment of Friday night, was really well done too. So all in all it was just a great event. I'm super excited that it came off as well as it did, super excited for next year too. So we want to touch on that here at the top of This Week In Voice.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:23:33] We will move on to story number two, which in my estimation, is the main story of the week. Apple has announced a release date for the HomePod. So it's been the subject of ridicule, it's been the subject of bewilderment, it's been the subject of a lot of discussion on This Week In Voice and VoiceFirst.FM shows. The HomePo, which was announced back in June of 2017, did not come out in the Christmas season like it was announced, and no release date was announced until just this week which is February the 9th. So my question for you Katie is number one, are you going to buy one of these as a voice technologist and entrepreneur and then number two, is who is going to buy it?

 

Katie Ernst: [00:24:24] Well first I just want to echo what you just said about VoiceXP. I was really impressed by them. I was really impressed by everything they're doing multimodally, and they are really awesome and their reception was great so I just had to say that. Going to your question about the HomePod, so they're releasing on February 9th and it's going to be $349. I own an Echo Show, I own a couple Echo devices, I own a Google Home, I actually now also own an Echo device you can use in your car because I want to be able to use it on my long commute, and I can tell you that I will definitively not be buying a HomePod. That actually really saddens me because I'm sitting here looking at my MacBook Air laptop and I'm sitting next to my iPhone, so this is not coming from somebody who is not an apple debut. In fact, it's coming from a place of being frustrated by them. I've just been so disappointed with everything that Apple has been doing. I don't know what you think about that.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:25:24] Oh I think you know what I think about that. It's just you know Apple's tour of disappointment continues and it would be different if Apple was not led by a supply chain CEO. So when I say a supply chain CEO, you need to understand what that means. That is an individual whose entire career has been defined by supply chain logistics. So forecasting demand and making sure there's no bottleneck in the supply chain, we've got all the parts here except this one so we can't build that thing, stuff like that doesn't happen. So release dates get met and there's enough inventory and it's just very disappointing and if you believe what Apple has said, that you take them at their word that they were having supply chain issues with it. There were announcements or news that came out that there wasn't going to be that many units at launch, then it just ends up being delayed period. Then you get into the secondary part of the equation, which is the lack of vision for the product. Clearly this is something that they're continuing with this. This is as you know super-duper music speaker saying oh and by the way it's got Siri now. They've tacked that verbiage onto the box, apparently. The $349 price point is a problem. Most people are not going to spend that. The six months between June's announcement and December's missed release window, I mean that's an eternity for how Amazon is moving. So a lot of people have moved on.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:26:57] I've been an Apple loyalist my whole life and I've just now recently sort of turned into this grumpy Apple hater, but it is sad what's going on with the company. Here they are about to come out with a product that's $349 that no one's going to buy. It's going to be an embarrassment. I'm sure there's going to be aspects of it that flat out don't work. They've already delayed AirPlay 2 to quote "later this year". Who knows what that means, so it's not a real shining moment in Apple history going on here?

 

Katie Ernst: [00:27:24] No and I read an interview with Tim Cook today and he said, I wrote this down so I got it right. Quote "We think one thing that was missing from the market was a quality audio experience. Music deserves that kind of quality as opposed to some kind of squeaky sound". I feel like number one, have you not experienced all of the offerings from other producers, don't those have good sound? Actually, I have just the first generation Echo and the sound quality is not terrible. Also just the way he talks, you get the impression that he thinks that these are just music playing devices, and they're not just music playing devices. They are something that really kind of changes the way that you interact with during your day. I think to me what's fascinating is that the reason that the iPhone, not the only reason, but one of the reasons that the iPhone became so popular was because of their entire push which was, there is an app for that.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:28:20] It was only a few years ago, although it seems a long time ago, but there was a time when you couldn't get a lot of apps outside of the iPhone. I remember when it was a really big deal when Instagram went over to Android and people were like losing their mind. I'm going to delete it now because it's only an iPhone thing and that's what really made a lot of people want to get an iPhone, which was that it had all of these apps. Yet now there are all these wonderful, independently developed voice applications for Amazon Alexa, and to a lesser extent Google Home, and Apple is acting like that's a thing that they don't want to sully themselves with or get themselves dirty with. It seems bizarre to me.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:29:02] Every time I hear Tim Cook speak he sounds like he's mentally checked out of the hotel, you know what I mean? He's not really dialed in on a lot of this stuff, but he is super dialed in whatever political causes he cares about. So perhaps we ought to get, I'll just name some political figure, the Pope or Laila Yousafzai or Barack Obama or somebody, that tells him that voice is important then maybe he would think that it would be. But for the for the rest of the company we've got two people here, we've got an entrepreneur who is forging a very interesting path in voice technology as my guest right this moment, and then we've got myself, who's a long time Apple enthusiast I would say, and somebody who's spent a whole lot of money buying Apple products, I'm not going to buy it to test it. I'm not going to buy it to use it. Somebody else can go do that. I'm out as they say on Shark Tank, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. I have no doubt that we will continue to talk about it on This Week In Voice as we see exactly what happens.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:30:21] Moving on to story number three. This is sort of an interesting one. Alexa take sides in the Super Bowl. I get people texting me about voice stuff, they know about VoiceFirst.fm, people who have no stake in the industry, they're just sort of onlookers. I've got a lot of texts and lot of e-mails about this before I had seen it in the news myself. So apparently you ask Alexa who's going to win the Super Bowl and Alexa goes into this whole diatribe about how she's taking the Eagles. I don't disagree. I hope that the Eagles win actually, but very interesting and I think that this really shines an interesting light on the role that these voice assistants will play in our culture. I remember talking last year with Cathy Pearl on This Week In Voice. There was a news story in the conservative media talking about how someone had asked Alexa if Jesus Christ was real and Alexa's answer to that generated news. Here we are again, somebody asking Alexa a question of public interest and it generates news. This is going to be the way things go probably for the rest of our lives. People ask voice assistants questions, and whatever it is that the device outputs is going to be news.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:54:16] So Katie, my question for you is first of all who's going to win the Super Bowl, do you agree with Alexa? Are the Eagles going to win or are the Patriots going to win, but more importantly what was your take on this? Did you have any larger thoughts about this? How did this strike you?

 

Katie Ernst: [00:54:31] Well first of all I should probably recuse myself because I live in Philadelphia, and so everyone that I work with is extremely excited about the Eagles being in the Super Bowl. I actually am a Saints fan so I was hoping that they would be in the playoff game with the Eagles, but it didn't happen. So it is what it is.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:54:49] I'm sorry to bring up a sore subject.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:54:49] Yes, it's a bit of a sore subject. I'm Happy that the Eagles will be against the Patriots, and I just found it somewhat interesting that it's kind of going back to what you brought up about the question with Jesus. In a way you could say oh this is once again Alexa taking a controversial stance. On the other hand, I could view it as maybe they got a little bit smarter and yes there are a lot of Patriots fans, but there are far more, at least in my personal experience not living in New England, Patriots haters. I think that Alexa took the every man's view on this, whereas Siri was like the Patriots are going to win because the odds say they will. I don't know, I think Alexa is pretty smart in what she said.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:55:28] Yeah I do too and I think that it's just smart marketing from Amazon's standpoint. Just knowing that whoever it is that's curating these voice responses has got their finger on the pulse of this stuff, because there's nothing that would make you feel stupider for buying an Echo Dot than asking Alexa question like that. It's of immediate cultural relevance and getting some answer back like, I don't know what the Super Bowl is but let me pull that from the internet for you or something. It's thoughtful, it shows the resources that Amazon is pouring into this, and I'm sure if he did it would Google Home it would be something similar. It's encouraging to know that these companies are nailing the details. They're nailing the bigger stuff of course, technology works great and all of that, but they're nailing some of these details too.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:56:13] I totally agree with you.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:56:14] We will move on to our fourth story of the week which is our Voicebot.ai story of the week. We are proud to continue our partnership with Voicebot.ai, a great news site. Check it out. The story is Google Home is outpacing Amazon Echo in search trends, both within the United States and abroad, if you read the article, and over a time span of about the last 90 days. I found this interesting for several reasons. The primary one being that it comes on the heels of CES and the narrative out of CES, separate from the conference, had a flood and it had the power going out.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:56:52] The main tech narrative was that Google is trading blow for blow with Amazon now. I think 2017 was defined by Amazon sort of punching down at them because Amazon just had such a lead in most areas as far as that direct comparison was concerned. But now here's Google really being intentional about the way that they promote their product line, and they promote Google Assistant and doing it with incredible volume, buying up ads, making news for how many ads they bought. That's how many ads they bought, that it actually was the news. The fact that we see this story from Voicebot.ai where Google Home is out outpacing Amazon and Amazon Echo in people search results, I think takes on a much more noteworthy aspect with that timing. So Katie, my question for you is do you agree with that assessment? Do you think that Google has closed the gap to some significant degree, or do you think that this is just sort of a red herring, that most people are buying Amazon Echo's and so they're just curious about Google Home and that's why they're searching for more? What do you think the takeaway here is?

 

Katie Ernst: [00:58:05] So I love Voicebot.ai, I read them all the time, but I have to say I have a little bit of a quibble with this particular story because the search terms that they used were Amazon Alexa and Amazon Echo, and then they also used Google Assistant and Google Home and I thought that was kind of interesting. I know when I talk to people, I'll talk about the Echo and they'll say I don't know anything about the Echo, but I have an Alexa. So I thought people don't even necessarily know that Alexa is Amazon even though they must have bought it there, I don't know how this happens.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:58:40] So I actually reran the numbers on Google where I used a search term Alexa versus the search term Amazon Alexa, and if you put in just the search term Alexa it's 25 to 35 percent higher than Google Home, so it actually flip the analysis. Now it's possible that there are some people searching for their high school girlfriend who was named Alexa, but I have a feeling that most of people that were searching for Alexa meant Amazon Alexa. So I think that the numbers that were quoted in this article may be a little bit skewed, because people don't search Amazon Alexa, they just search Alexa. So I found that interesting.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:59:21] If you do search for Alexa something I can tell you, you'll appreciate this with your legal background, do you know how many people or organizations have a trademark on the word Alexa, just guess.

 

Katie Ernst: [00:59:32] I have no idea.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:59:33] Somebody uses the term Alexa for this, somebody using the term Alexa for that, there's 97. Don't ask me why I know that, it's a long story. It is possible that you're getting some cross talk in the search results. Just from a narrative standpoint, even if they were neck and neck, that would be a win for Google would it not?

 

Katie Ernst: [00:59:52] Oh I agree, I think that Google is very up and coming. Two years ago Alexa had 95 percent of the market share, and now they're under 70 percent, and now Google Home is up 25 percent so obviously Google is growing. It is definitely something that people are very interested in and there are some people that prefer Google and there are some people that prefer Amazon.

 

Katie Ernst: [01:00:13] So I mean it's something that could go either way, but I don't know that it's so clear that Google searches are way outpacing, and even in the Voicebot.ai story, they did acknowledge that obviously this is based on Google searches. So if you knew that Alexa was an Amazon product, you're probably going to Amazon to search for it. You're not going to Google, so that is already kind of skewing the results. Then if you add in the fact that if people are searching and they don't know who Alexa is, then they might just search the word Alexa. It kind of muddies the results to where it's not clear to me which one is kind of winning in the particular moment, although certainly at CES Google made a huge splash and everybody's been talking about it. So you can't deny that.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:01:01] It will be interesting to compare the results from the Voicebot.ai article to the same exact search results run six months from now, or maybe even run three months from now, and see what the delta is, if it's different if it's the same or what's going on.

 

Katie Ernst: [01:01:18] I agree with you.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:01:18] I wanted to make sure we covered that as part of This Week In Voice. The last story, that we just added a little while ago, is that the Smart Voice Summit is next week, presented by Smartly.AI, a very interesting group of folks. I am part of the Conference. I'm looking forward to being part of the conference. The main reason I'm looking forward to it is that it will be my first opportunity to take my wife to Paris so we're going to make a trip out of it. The way that these folks have constructed this event, if you're anywhere in the neighborhood of the Smart Voice Summit, you really need to take a hard look at this. It's just tons and tons of expertise. Bret Kinsella for Voicebot.ai will be speaking, Karen Kaushansky will be speaking, a lot of really super smart folks. I wanted to make sure I included information about that. Next week we will have a wrap-up episode from the Smart Voice Summit, a special edition of This Week In Voice, so you can look forward to that. I wanted to make sure we mention that on the show. Katie, you'll have to go out to Paris and be part of this event at some point.

 

Katie Ernst: [01:02:23] I wish, I love Paris and I've been there a number of times. If you haven't been there, you will love it. Paris is a wonderful city, so congratulations.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:02:32] So Katie, thank you very very much for being part of this episode of This Week In Voice with us, it was a pleasure.

 

Katie Ernst: [01:02:37] Yes thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

 

Bradley Metrock: [01:02:38] For This Week In Voice, Episode 2, Season 2, thank you for listening and until next time.

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