I’ve recently become fascinated with the potential of domestic voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Echo. Although they have their flaws of interpretation, they enable access to content from the internet for people who are unused to, or unable to use smartphone interfaces. It’s easy to forget that although a great many people pick up their iPhone as soon as they wake up and rarely put it down until they close their eyes at night, there’s a whole generation my parent’s age and above who don’t habitually carry their phone around or really understand how to use it. Devices like Echo/ Alexa get around this by making it easy to get facts about things from the web or play some music just by speaking clearly, bringing some of the benefits of ubiquitous connectivity without the learning curve.
|Xperia Agent expresses its frustration at its long gestation|
I was therefore excited to see how Sony were getting along with their Xperia Agent, AI assistant product, which they showed at Mobile World Congress last year. And the answer is… they’re in exactly the same place. The product looks nice. Its friendly eyes and cute head still look at you when you talk to it. It has a little touch of empathetic response that makes it more engaging to talk to than Echo. But it still isn’t a product. One of its minders was quite stern with me when I mentioned that it didn’t seem much different to last year. “We need to get it perfect”, he told me.
Another product that seems good on the surface but is probably about to disappoint is the Xperia Touch. This is a great concept: a projector with integrated computer that turns any surface into a touch screen. It works brilliantly too, creating sharp images and responding rapidly to interaction. Why do I think it’ll fail? The price, at EUR 1,500 is way too high for the modest consumer need it serves. I can see it being useful in some retail or business situations; however the Sony people on site were firmly of the view that it’s a consumer product.
What’s occurring here are two common issue in corporate innovation. First, Sony seem to be totally focused on technology invention and product innovation, rather than thinking across all three parts of the Lean Startup cycle. They are favouring ‘can we do it’ over ‘will customers want it’ and ‘can we make money out of it’. Considering all three parts together is vital in order to launch successful products rather than mere trinkets.
Second, they are too focused on perfection. In the quest to launch a 100% product, Xperia Agent has gone from something novel that may even have been able to compete in the AI assistant market, to an irrelevance. And this from the organisation that was willing to take a risk on two generations of Aibo the robot dog! Launch and get customer feedback, fixing issues along the way, rather than trying for perfection in a market that you don’t understand yet (because no one does!).
I’ll look forward to seeing Xperia Agent again next year.