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Amazon buys Siri-esque Evi, planning voice-based shopping assistant?


More Siri! TechCrunch is reporting that Amazon has purchased a British startup called Evi, an electronic voice-based guide like Apple’s Siri, for the sum of $26 million.

Evi’s investors, the somewhat insidious-sounding Octopus Ventures, have released records detailing the deal, but neither has commented beyond that thus far.

Since we don’t really know what this is all about, we’ll proceed to speculate from here. This sounds a lot like Amazon planning a virtual shopping assistant, which might be a good move, if it can pull off experience a natural experience. One of the first issues ever brought up about shopping on the Web was the loss of interpersonal communication. Amazon could do well with a faceless, formless shopping companion – the only issue is whether or not Evi strikes the right chord with shoppers. Too hurried a voice would turn off a lot of consumers, but too casual and sociable could be equally disastrous.

Amazon already knows you – probably better than you think – and that relieves Amazon and Octopus from a lot of programming burden. That said, if Amazon’s serious enough about a voice app to dish out that kind of cash for a startup, it has two major hurdles. Firstly, it has to nail Evi’s personality and distinguish her from Siri. Second, they’ve gotta make sure the creepy news stories about Evi’s programming are kept to a minimum before launch. Reading stuff about Siri’s right-leaning stance on abortion, for example, can push consumers away from her (we don’t care what she does with her own port).

If this line of thinking turns out to be right, it opens up a monthly, sometimes weekly opportunity for Evi to suggest holiday gifts alone. Throw a few random perks around for a while as an incentive to try Evi out and Amazon could get us hooked on shopping exclusively on our phones within six months.

Amazon’s also got a rumored smartphone of its own coming out, and if it does try and breach the hardware market, I’m sure we’ll all be meeting Evi within the year, whether we buy the thing or not.

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