IT’S FAIR TO say that when Amazon introduced the first Echo speaker in the fall of 2014, most people weren’t quite sure what to make of it. In the intervening years, Echo and the broader universe of Alexa-powered devices have transitioned from curiosity to ubiquity. But while you can find Alexa in just about everything—including, yes, a microwave—the real progress Amazon’s voice assistant made in 2018 came less from breadth than from depth.
That’s not to say it hasn’t made gains of scale. Amazon’s voice assistant has doubled the number of countries where it’s available, for starters, learning how to speak French and Spanish along the way. More than 28,000 smart home devices work with Alexa now, six times as many as at the beginning of the year. And more than 100 distinct products have Alexa built in. If you’re looking for some sort of tipping point, consider that, as of last month, you can buy an Alexa-compatible Big Mouth Billy Bass.
It’s how Alexa evolves under the hood, though, that has defined this year—and how it will continue to inch toward its full potential in those to come. Alexa has gotten smarter, in ways so subtle you might not yet have even noticed.