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Motorola and Artificial Intelligence.... via Alexa
Here is something interesting regarding Motorola, AI and Alexa.
Motorola might have lured people to its MWC press conference with
the promise of new phones, but the real talking point came toward the
end of the event. After hyping a pair of midrange devices and some fun
Moto Mod concepts, the company confirmed that it's working with Amazon
to bring Alexa to Moto phones. While the first steps of Motorola's
Alexa partnership are now well-known, it's the stuff that Motorola
later told Engadget about its plans that seems most exciting.
Let's start from the beginning. Our first taste of this
Amazon/Motorola mash-up will come in the form of an Alexa-powered Moto
Mod. It was the star of an all-too-short teaser video that suggested
the accessory would be made by Harman Kardon. Dan Dery, vice president
of products at Motorola, then hinted that the Mod might launch
alongside whatever new flagship the company releases later this year.
Remember, Motorola's first Moto Z launched in June 2016, so we might
not have to wait too long.
As it turns out, developing that modular add-on might be the easy
bit. Despite being part of an industry that thrives on secrecy, Dery
was candid about the experience Motorola wants to build with Alexa.
Part of its vision includes the typical stuff: using Alexa wake-up
words to ask the assistant questions and tapping into Alexa's 10,000
skills. Make no mistake, though, while this is in some ways table
stakes for having Alexa on a phone, it requires plenty of work.
The other, more ambitious part of Moto's plan is to offer a deeper
integration in which Alexa -- and perhaps other assistants -- can
interpret data about you straight from the phone. Dery admits this is
further down Motorola's road map, but it's crucial to giving users a
truly valuable experience with mobile AI.
"Today when you talk to Alexa, [your commands] basically
always go to services that they have in the cloud," said Dery.
"But there is no proper, deep integration with the device."
He used a common example to illustrate his point: He can't tell Alexa
to book a table at a restaurant his colleague mentioned in an email.
All of that context, stored on phones and in different apps, often
exists in silos where services like Alexa can't easily gain access.
Companies like Apple and Google don't have to worry about the
problem quite as much, since their own virtual assistants can access
information from their own, first-party apps. For companies trying to
integrate AI from their partners, though, figuring out how to fetch a
user's data into realms assistants like Alexa can interpret is
"The only personal device that can really start to represent
you as a user to those services is the phone," Dery said.
"There is a wall between the Alexa world and my world as a user.
So this is exactly what we're trying to break."
Even with Alexa onboard future devices, Motorola won't force its
customers to use it. Motorola's goal, as far as Dery is concerned, is
to serve users in an "agnostic way"; forcing a choice
wouldn't be a winning strategy. He wouldn't confirm exactly what
existing Motorola devices would gain access to Alexa down the road but
noted that Motorola considers Alexa and assistants like it part of its
Moto Experiences and will soon formalize backward and forward
compatibility rules for those features.
For now, it's unclear whether Motorola's approach to Alexa
integration is an exception or a rule. Huawei announced a similar deal
earlier this year at CES, where new Mate 9 smartphones would come with
Alexa on board and models in the wild would get an update. Beyond
that, Huawei has been quiet about exactly how this partnership will
work. A trusted, anonymous source points to an integration deeper than
just plopping an Alexa icon on the home screen, adding that Alexa will
likely become available on Mate 9s in March.
Still, the AI push is a pronounced one across the industry. Apple
and Google have Siri and Google Assistant, respectively. (The latter,
by the way, is now widely available.) Huawei is using machine learning
algorithms to optimize its phones' performance. HTC's flagship U Ultra
has a second screen where its HTC Companion is supposed to live. The
race is on to see who can achieve the best blend of AI and features
that feed into it, and we'll all benefit from the outcome.
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