Amazon: Alexa Echo

When Amazon first introduced the Echo back in 2014, it was pitched primarily as a smart speaker, promising a way to control your music with your voice and little else.

But then, the Alexa virtual agent that powers the Echo got more and more capable — evolving from a novelty into the de facto standard for controlling smart home appliances with your voice. Thermostats, humidifiers, Ikea lightbulbs, and even salt shakersare all controllable with Alexa.

“Alexa established first mover advantage and has built barriers to entry by now, with over 12,000 products having Alexa skills,” says Gartner Research Director Werner Goertz.

And even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has hinted that the company is investing more heavily in Alexa as a smart home hub than as a way to shop its store.

This week, Amazon kept that momentum going with the launch of the appliance categories API, a way for developers to “tell” Alexa what their devices actually are. It opens the door to, say “turn on every single light at 6pm” or maybe even “open every blind, turn off every light, and start the coffee maker.” It reflects Amazon’s push to minimize complexity with Alexa, even as that dizzying array of compatible gadgetry only grows.

Now, with Apple, Google, and Microsoft all following suit and renewing their push into the smart home, here’s how Amazon plans to keep its early lead in the fast-growing smart home category.

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