Amazon unveils voice interoperability initiative with more than 30 companies — but not Google or Apple

Amazon’s Echo Dot. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Amazon announced a big partnership on Tuesday called the Voice Interoperability Initiative, taking a stand on how it believes voice services should work across different devices and digital assistants.

The Seattle tech giant, which has invested heavily in its Alexa voice technology, believes that “voice services should work seamlessly alongside one another on a single device, and that voice-enabled products should be designed to support multiple simultaneous wake words.”

More than 30 companies that build related hardware and software have signed on to the initiative, including Microsoft, Sonos, Salesforce, Baidu, Tencent, Spotify, Verizon, Intel, Qualcomm, and others. Apple, Google, and Samsung — three of Amazon’s fiercest rivals in the voice industry — were noticeably absent.

“Multiple simultaneous wake words provide the best option for customers,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. “Utterance by utterance, customers can choose which voice service will best support a particular interaction. It’s exciting to see these companies come together in pursuit of that vision.”

Update: In a statement, Google said “we just heard about this initiative and would need to review the details, but in general we’re always interested in participating in efforts that have the broad support of the ecosystem and uphold strong privacy and security practices.”

Here are the four “priorities” that the initiative is built around:

  • Developing voice services that can work seamlessly with others, while protecting the privacy and security of customers
  • Building voice-enabled devices that promote choice and flexibility through multiple, simultaneous wake words
  • Releasing technologies and solutions that make it easier to integrate multiple voice services on a single product
  • Accelerating machine learning and conversational AI research to improve the breadth, quality and interoperability of voice services

Amazon’s press release quoted executives including Salesforce Chairman Marc Benioff; Sonos CEO Patrick Spence; Spotify Chief R&D Officer Gustav Söderström; and others who are committed to building products that support multiple voice services.

“We’re in the midst of an incredible technological shift, in which voice and AI are completely transforming the customer experience,” Benioff said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Amazon and other industry leaders to make Einstein Voice, the world’s leading CRM assistant, accessible on any device.”

“We are excited to join the Voice Interoperability Initiative, which will give our listeners a more seamless experience across whichever voice assistant they choose, including the ability to ask for Spotify directly,” Söderström said.

Amazon has been a voice market leader since debuting Alexa five years ago and is on a mission to get the digital assistant everywhere, both with its Echo devices and inside thousands of third-party products ranging from light bulbs to vehicles to Windows PCs.

Google is also pouring resources into its own voice tech, namely Google Assistant and Google Home. Apple is doing the same with Siri and its HomePod.

Amazon is preparing to show off a host of new and update gadgets at a media event on Wednesday. The company held a similar event last year when it unveiled more than a dozen new devices, putting Alexa into everything from microwaves to sound systems to car dashboards. Alexa will surely be in the spotlight again this year.