Amazon’s Alexa: The Free Ride is Over

The vision of Alexa was that Amazon would have a powerful foothold in your home, and buying from Amazon would be so much easier if you could place orders with a voice command. “Alexa, we’re out of toilet paper, can you send me some?” would trigger an order of your favorite brand without the click of a mouse.

Instead, it grew to be a popular interface for IOT devices. In my home Alexa turns on lights, changes radio stations, and sometimes sends a message about an Amazon delivery. But in the past few months, it’s been getting wonky. It forgets lights. It turns on the TV, and… the other day when we asked it what time it was, Alexa said: “Oh my! That question made my day.”

Wow, that was both scary and bizarrely irrelevant.

So it was clear something was going on.

Then Ars Technica came out with a report that the end was near. Alexa was pushing to release a paid subscription product by June of this year. That raises all kinds of questions. Alexa is great as a free product, because, well, free. But how much would I pay to have a voice command turn on my lights? Not much, I’d guess. It’s a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

Business Insider poked around, and it seems some Amazon employees “were questioning the entire premise of charging for Alexa. For example, people who already pay for an existing Amazon service, such as Amazon Music, might not be willing to pay additional money to get access to the newer version of Alexa.”

It’s worth pointing out here that Amazon has already done this with Amazon Prime Video. The “free” video service that comes along with Amazon Prime will begin inserting commercials in movies and TV show in just seven days. No more free ride for video.

The end of “free” at Amazon feels like the end of an era. When Bezos was at the helm as CEO, there was a real drive for innovation. The company built devices like Fire, and bundled products together with meaningful consumer value. The shift from Netflix-style streaming to good old-fashioned TV, with ad interruptions, feels like a sad step backward.

Already, you can feel the wolf at the door. Business Insider reported in late 2022 that Alexa was expected to lose Amazon $10 billion that year alone. And Amazon has been putting heads on the chopping block. In November, Amazon layoffs targeted Amazon’s devices and services division and staff at Amazon’s AI team.

So the new service, rumored be called Amazon Plus, will be built on large-language model AI, but it’s unclear that Amazon has the talent in-house to build what it calls “remarkable Alexa” technology.

Don’t worry about Amazon going out of business — far from it. The company banked $9.9 billion in profits in Q3 on $143.1 billion in revenue. But rising prices and cutting staff is very much the order of the day. If there are nifty new products in development, we’re not hearing about them these days.

Alexa, order me a replacement IOT device to turn my lights on and off.

Hi, I'm Droid.

How can I help you today?