Forbes last week announced an integration between Virgin Active and Amazon's Alexa, enabling Echo users (or users of other Alexa-enabled devices) to get more information about gym classes and book directly through the voice assistant. They then go onto theorise that "the partnership means Virgin Active gym members can preserve their energy for when it matters the most" - which is obviously nonsense, given how little energy is required to book a gym class. It's literally a couple of clicks.
So, here's where I think the real value is. Keen runners among us might have heard, or even bought, the new AI personal trainer, Vi, which came to fruition from a successful Kickstarter campaign. This thing has a little heart-rate sensor in one of the ear-pieces, and comes to understand your personal exercise specifics the more you train with it. Currently it's best used for runners, but this is technology, and the future, so it's only a matter of time before it's useful for other activities. A smart link-up between Alexa and Vi could mean a situation where Vi knows what kind of activities you enjoy and how much you've trained this week, prompting Alexa to book you into the best class for you, based on both your current training programme and your diary (because obviously she has access to that). Perhaps Vi then tells Alexa how many calories you burned, and Alexa can recommend you a suitable recipe to cook tonight based on your training for the day and what's in your fridge?
Sounds amazing, doesn't it? The truth is, at the moment the Alexa platform is primarily app-based, leveraging skills, and they don't seem to link up. But that's ok, it's new(ish) and we're still figuring this all out. But we've seen what's happened with smartphones and apps - people like fewer, not more apps on their devices. Who can be bothered with trawling through multiple access points to get what you need? We all seem to be finding that we just don't need all those little squares on our screens, and the ones we do have all talk to each other in some way, taking away jobs we didn't even realise we needed to do.
Let's hope that Amazon encourages their skills developers to think about this, lest the skills fall into the same overload trap that we've found with apps. Alexa is the first real step into connected home, so fingers crossed it also becomes the first step into a truly connected life.