On Thursday, June 7, 2018, Amazon announced Fire TV Cube. The official release date of the new device will be June 21, 2018. Currently priced at $119.99 ($89.99 for Amazon Prime members), the cube combines the features and functionality of several existing Amazon devices. It includes the Amazon Alexa voice control and speakers like Echo and Echo Dot as well as the video-streaming capabilities of Fire TV and the Fire TV stick. What it offers that is new is the ability to control other devices such as your TV, AV receiver, and cable box via “the cloud, Infrared (IR), and HDMI-CEC.” While the Echo and Echo Dot are very much at home in the kitchen and the Echo Show is comfortable in the bedroom, this new functionality makes Fire TV Cube something designed specifically for yet another room of your house — the living room.
As someone who has just finished remodeling my home’s media room, I have been looking for a way to eliminate some of the clutter of remotes, and this device seems like it would make a very welcome addition to my current set-up. In fact, I’ve already submitted my pre-order.
There are a few hurdles that this new device will have to clear to reach its potential. First, the connection between the devices needs to be seamless whether via the cloud, IR, or HDMI-CEC. Second, it will be important that the device be easy to install and configure or else adoption and usage will suffer. And, being someone who works in the payments industry, one of my first thoughts was that this device has the potential to greatly accelerate the adoption of conversational commerce.
As reported in the Mastercard whitepaper “Conversational Commerce: A New Opportunity for Card Payments.” 17% of U.S. adults surveyed reported that they shop using voice agents. While this number shows strong early adoption, the report mentions that respondents indicated a preference for improved feedback regarding transactions, including “relevant voice responses or lists of text answers or solutions.” Combining the Alexa voice assistant with the visual display of Fire TV represents a great opportunity for Amazon to have the Alexa voice assistant provide that feedback in not only an audible form but also a visual form. While this melding of the two mediums isn’t something that consumers should expect at launch, I fully expect that over time this convergence will occur, greatly increasing users’ comfort with the technology and driving further adoption.
Again, speaking of my personal experience, I have yet to order anything through my Echo Dot. Like the respondents to the Mastercard survey mentioned above, I attribute this mostly to my concern about transaction accuracy and my laziness about learning how to use the device for commerce in a way that I would feel comfortable. It’s easy enough to pull out my smartphone and perform the same transaction on that device. However, I certainly could see myself using an Alexa device or some other voice assistant if I were to receive a sufficient and transaction confirmation expeditiously, without having to wait for the assistant to recite all the relevant information. I don’t think it’s a big stretch to see how a TV screen would help in that regard.
Amazon has already incorporated a screen into the Alexa voice assistant with Echo Show. Having a larger screen would open additional opportunities. Also, leveraging the consumer’s existing screen lowers the cost of adoption (Echo Show retails for $229.99, currently on sale for $149.99, $60 more than Fire TV Cube).
Amazon again appears to be the first mover, this time by adopting IR blasters into its smart home device ecosystem. This first mover advantage will continue to pay dividends as Google and Apple endeavor to catch up with their own smart home products. At the same time, merchants and payments companies need to be developing solutions to make the most of these new opportunities to ensure that they stay up-to-date with consumer preferences.
Conversational commerce is a hot topic of discussion in the payments industry and is something we are following at Mercator Advisory Group. Last month our Emerging Technologies Advisory Group practice published a piece titled “Conversational Commerce Speaks to New Market Opportunities for Merchants” that outlines the case for conversational commerce, explaining why it is so important.