Amazon Echo

This was not supposed to happen. Apple was supposed to rule the future.

That’s right, while pundits were debating the merits and demerits of the Apple Watch, Jony Ive’s grasp at immortality, with many fashionable elements but little utility, Jeff Bezos pivoted from his Fire phone debacle and slowly took over the world, foisting upon it a product no one knew they wanted but everyone who owns one can’t stop testifying about.

The Fire phone was so last decade. Wherein you overhype something to ubiquity. Steve Jobs perfected that paradigm, to the point we were more interested in watching Apple presentations than going to the movies.

But then Steve Jobs died.

Tech is not the land of corporations, it’s the domain of individuals. Otherwise Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman would have been able to pump up HP. But they couldn’t, they’re both managers. And we’re only interested in innovators.

For a while there Google caught our eye. Not only did its search engine do the impossible, deliver exactly what we were looking for, to the point no one even looks at the second link anymore, the company delivered Gmail and free analytics and…

Then came Google Glass. A product no one wanted paraded by the nerds running this company who were out of touch.

That’s the problem with Facebook too, Zuckerberg’s a nerd. He doesn’t understand human relationships, doesn’t realize we enjoy a modicum of privacy, doesn’t know how to get along with media powers, wanting to eat their lunch via bullying.

You can argue Jeff Bezos is the same person.

But Bezos has always been ahead of his prey. And despite being a nerd, Bezos is immersed in the world of retail, he knows where the rubber meets the road, he realizes it’s all about satiating customers with stuff they want.

Even corporate customers. You may not be aware of AWS, Amazon Web Services, but it’s the engine of profit for the company. A new enterprise priced low at the advent, AWS hosts your favorite websites, demonstrating in the modern economy it often doesn’t pay to own, but to rent, with the flexibility to grow larger or shrink smaller on a whim. While we’re still fighting over access in the music industry, with the artist arguing for ownership, techies realize access is everything, that people don’t want to buy, which is why record stores closed and Spotify’s got a huge valuation.

And then came Amazon Video. A seemingly unnecessary me-too service in a land of frontrunners known as Netflix and Hulu, Amazon ended up cooking up “Transparent” and “Mozart In The Jungle” and suddenly its Prime members were watching.

Prime… You might consider it a fee for fast delivery, but although profitable Amazon considers it a club. Everybody wants to be a member of an organization, especially one with free perks. That’s the M.O. of the future. Get people hooked and keep ladling on features, letting early adopters in for less, incentivizing members to stay attached.

Kind of like the Echo.

We didn’t know we wanted voice control in the house. We kept hearing about the internet of things, but we weren’t sure what it was about. Furthermore, Siri is so frustrating that many don’t even bother to employ it on their phone.

Apple was there first in voice control, but it squandered its lead, it didn’t see the opportunities, and now it’s floundering.

But Amazon did.

It released the Echo with little fanfare and over the course of its short lifetime, a little over a year, it’s become the go-to product of the day. Mobile phones have become commoditized. Apple does realize loyalty is about features/software/club membership, if you use a Samsung you’re out of the loop, but if you’re a loner so many mobile devices are good enough today.

But there’s only one Echo.

Sonos was caught flat-footed. It’s laying off workers. It knows the future is voice control.

And competitors are clamoring for market share, Echo will not be alone for long.

But it does have first-mover advantage. And it’s the ecosystem that counts. Third parties are lining up to create Echo-compatible apps, to run your thermostat, your lights, your…

So you’ve got to give Jeff Bezos credit. He’s learned from his mistakes and is still a visionary pushing the envelope.

Apple is dead. It will survive for a while on its devices, but they too will ultimately be superseded, as were Palm and BlackBerry before them.

Because there’s no there there.

Music broke through because of the moguls, people who invented it along the way. Ahmet Ertegun started Atlantic with money from his dentist and then pivoted from R&B to rock. Bill Graham created the Fillmores and then closed them when they were no longer economically viable. Those growing up working for the man just don’t have the same fire or insight, they haven’t fought for their lives, they’re used to getting a paycheck, they’re more interested in ripping off the corporation than expanding it.

But Jeff Bezos is like the Beatles. Staying in the game, always giving us the unexpected.

Not Kanye. Kanye has perfected publicity. In an era where hype means ever less. We’re looking for substance, we’re looking for you to be one step ahead of the game. That’s how we know Spotify’s a winner…everybody suing and complaining about it eating their lunch. But Spotify’s customers are satisfied, by this enterprise created by an outsider.

Art used to have a hold on this kind of innovation. Before corporations ruled. And the creators are as bad as the despots, they put money first and character second. Whereas the best of the techies know that remuneration comes last.

So wake up and smell the coffee. It’s morning in America. One wherein devices our are servants, they will thrill us and make our lives easier.

But they depend upon our input.

What are you gonna tell your Echo to do?

P.S. Ignore the hype about Amazon opening bookstores. Few titles are involved, it’s all about getting people to experience their devices and services. Think “To Serve Man,” not Barnes & Noble. Amazon isn’t interested in selling you a physical book, it wants to own your life!

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