Alexa ready to wel­come you to your new home

U.S. home­builder to in­clude Ama­zon tech into house de­sign

The Peterborough Examiner - - Business - REX CRUM The Mer­cury News

VALLEJO, CALIF. — From the out­side, home­builder Len­nar’s model home in Vallejo could be any other house in a new sub­ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. But that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end and the fu­ture be­gins, cour­tesy of a new smart-home part­ner­ship with Ama­zon.

This week, Ama­zon and Len­nar be­gan show­ing off what they are calling the Ama­zon Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­ter, a pre-wired, voice­ac­ti­vated smart home at a North Bay Len­nar hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, along with sim­i­lar model homes in seven other lo­ca­tions across the coun­try.

Len­nar — one of the na­tion’s largest home­builders — plans to build Ama­zon’s Alexa voice­as­sis­tant tech­nol­ogy into the de­sign when con­struct­ing all of its houses na­tion­wide from now on. Be­cause of the part­ner­ship with Ama­zon, this tech­nol­ogy pack­age will come stan­dard and will not add any­thing to the base cost of the home. Alexa will be able to han­dle many of the mun­dane, ev­ery­day tasks that those who buy the de­vel­oper’s homes cur­rently do on their own.

Talk to Alexa and, thanks to the Ama­zon Echo de­vices that are stan­dard with the house, you can close your shades, find a movie to watch via Ama­zon Prime — and the Ama­zon Fire TV that comes with the home — sched­ule au­to­matic or­ders of house­hold goods, or or­der those things di­rectly by us­ing the Ama­zon Dash but­tons that also come stan­dard with the home. Fi­nally, you can lock your doors and set your ther­mo­stat as you turn in for the night.

Tech­nol­ogy that han­dles such chores isn’t new; Ama­zon, Google and Ap­ple have of­fered voicecom­mand as­sis­tant tech­nol­ogy for years. But a home built from the ground up with a full suite of one com­pany’s home-con­trol tech­nol­ogy takes the con­cept to an­other level. And while Alexa — or any other kind of voice-com­mand plat­form — of­fers con­ve­nience, the Len­nar-Ama­zon con­nected-home model presents a slate of ques­tions about just how much con­trol one com­pany can and should have over an in­di­vid­ual’s daily rou­tines, habits and pri­vacy.

“This def­i­nitely takes the ‘ev­ery­thing store’ to an­other level, de­liv­er­ing not just prod­ucts, but nearly ev­ery ser­vice one could need in a given day,” said Gene Mun­ster, part­ner with tech re­search firm Loup Ven­tures. “A whole­sale up­grade to a fully smart home gives Ama­zon a lot of power over who­ever lives there.

Each in­cre­men­tal smart de­vice you con­trol with Alexa is an­other touch point for the Ama­zon brand and makes Prime a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to leave.”

Dur­ing a tour of the Ama­zon Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­ter home in Vallejo, Tom Bur­rill, Len­nar’s Bay Area divi­sion pres­i­dent, said that for some, fac­ing such new tech­nolo­gies in the home “can be in­tim­i­dat­ing,” but that see­ing the de­vices in a home set­ting can al­le­vi­ate wor­ries about how ev­ery­thing works to­gether.

“It (the Ama­zon tech­nol­ogy home) lets you come ex­pe­ri­ence it,” Bur­rill said. “Ama­zon looked at Len­nar, saw that we’ve got thou­sands of model homes around the coun­try, and they said, ‘Why don’t we show what we can do?’”

Some see Ama­zon as a good

stew­ard of the per­sonal data its de­vices gather in con­sumers’ homes.

“Are they al­ways lis­ten­ing? Are they record­ing our ac­tiv­ity? They clearly have the po­ten­tial to do so,” said Michael Pachter, an an­a­lyst who cov­ers Ama­zon for Wed­bush Se­cu­ri­ties. “But I think Ama­zon val­ues its cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships and will take what­ever steps nec­es­sary to en­sure that pri­vacy is main­tained.”

Ama­zon didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment about its Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­ter homes. But Len­nar’s Bur­rill said the home­builder trusts Ama­zon to han­dle and en­sure the se­cu­rity of the sys­tems.

Cus­tomers still have the fi­nal say about whether or not to use all of the Ama­zon-en­abled op­tions in their homes.

“In re­al­ity, it’s just like any­thing else and peo­ple can turn it all off,” Bur­rill said.

In­clud­ing Alexa and other Ama­zon tech­nolo­gies — Echo speak­ers, Prime video, home se­cu­rity ser­vice — in some­one’s home from the mo­ment they move in may also lock a con­sumer into the Ama­zon tech uni­verse. Peo­ple typ­i­cally like to stay with the sys­tems they know rather than go through the rig­ma­role of switch­ing and learn­ing how to op­er­ate some­thing new, so what­ever com­pany pro­vides in-home tech will get an au­to­matic leg up on its com­peti­tors.

“The con­cept is vi­able, but my con­cern is that this locks you into a sin­gle dig­i­tal as­sis­tant and ecosys­tem. And not ev­ery­one buy­ing a home from Len­nar will want to have their home con­nected to just Ama­zon base as­sis­tants,” said Tim Ba­jarin, pres­i­dent of Cre­ative Strate­gies, a San Jose-based tech re­search firm.

Ama­zon also mon­e­tizes cus­tomers’ in­for­ma­tion through tar­geted ads. Although it brings in a much smaller share of dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars than Google or Face­book, some ex­perts say its data-gath­er­ing tech­nolo­gies — in­clud­ing Alexa, in­side mil­lions of Echo de­vices al­ready sold into U.S. homes — could help it gain on them over time.

“As you ask Alexa for things, you’re kind of telling Ama­zon what your habits are, how many peo­ple you have in your house­hold, what your in­ter­ests are,” For­rester Re­search an­a­lyst Sa­man­tha Mer­li­vat told this news or­ga­ni­za­tion in De­cem­ber.

Ama­zon ac­knowl­edges on its web­site how it uses cus­tomers’ in­for­ma­tion.

“Ama­zon dis­plays in­ter­est­based ad­ver­tis­ing us­ing in­for­ma­tion you make avail­able to us when you in­ter­act with our sites, con­tent, or ser­vices,” the com­pany says.

“In­ter­est-based ads, also some­times re­ferred to as per­son­al­ized or tar­geted ads, are dis­played to you based on in­for­ma­tion from ac­tiv­i­ties such as pur­chas­ing on our sites, vis­it­ing sites that con­tain Ama­zon con­tent or ads, in­ter­act­ing with Ama­zon tools, or us­ing our pay­ment ser­vices, like Check­out by Ama­zon.”

But the tech prod­ucts in­stalled in the home and the ease they of­fer may be too much for many Ama­zon cus­tomers to pass up.

“The do-it-your­self ap­proach that we’ve largely been us­ing up until now puts too much of a bur­den on the user who must in­stall, sup­port, and then learn how to use what is of­ten an un­man­age­able mess,” said Rob En­derle, di­rec­tor of tech con­sul­tancy the En­derle Group. “By ap­proach­ing this through the builder, and as an op­tion, the home­owner gets a func­tion­ing in­ter­face, Alexa, they likely know and aren’t afraid of. The re­sult is not only a hap­pier user, but a sys­tem that will likely be used rather than ran­domly cursed at.”

ANDA CHU TNS

Len­nar Divi­sion Pres­i­dent of the Bay Area Tom Bur­rill de­scribes the fea­tures of Ama­zon Alexa de­vices fea­tured in a model home on Mare Is­land in Vallejo, Calif.. Home­builder Len­nar has teamed up with Ama­zon to of­fer homes with Alexa tech­nol­ogy in­cluded.

ANDA CHU TNS

An Ama­zon Echo Dot dis­plays a video feed of the back­yard in a model home on Mare Is­land in Vallejo, Calif.

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