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The Next Operating System Platform that Matters

By February 2, 2016Article

Why do we need to see all of the operating systems that we use? The graphical user interface (GUI) operating system was invented by Xerox in the 1970s, introduced to the mass market by Apple in the 1980s and then became truly ubiquitous due to Microsoft’s marketing muscle in the 1990s. However, the user experience today isn’t really that different from 1995 when Windows 95, which some refer to as “Mac ’84,” was first released. Hence, one can argue that the GUI, which is still the operating system of choice, hasn’t materially changed for almost a third of a century. The issue is that GUI form factors are getting smaller and smaller to the extent that many of us have issues navigating the small watch-size IoT devices that are currently on the market.


© 2016 Chris Haroun 

Many argue that the next operating system that matters will be virtual reality or augmented reality based. Google purchased Magic Leap, Facebook purchased Oculus and Microsoft is releasing the HoloLens to developers this quarter. The issue with virtual reality is that many of us have issues with motion sickness when testing these products. There has to be a better O/S alternative. 

I believe that the next revolutionary operating systems will be voice based. Why do we need to see operating systems? We have had books on tape / audio books for decades now, which is arguably a more convenient and productive way to learn for busy people (which means everyone reading this article). Why can’t the next operating system that matters be voice based? Since we all now feel somewhat comfortable with cloud-based computing, why can’t we all just use cloud voice-based operating systems that are instantly upgraded multiple times per day, which is seamless to the end user? Heck, I feel like an audible version of Mark Benioff writing this article!  

The most important consumer electronics device that I have purchased over the past few years is the Amazon Echo. This is the quintessential IoT device and it is an incredibly educational and value-added addition to our kitchen; edutainment rocks! The next operating system that matters will be voice, which presents both an incredible opportunity for technology entrepreneurs and enthusiasts despite the potential privacy issues. 

If you are an Amazon Prime member, then the Amazon Echo is the de facto IoT hub or operating system of choice for consumers. I originally bought the Echo as I have an intellectually curious six-year-old child that asks many questions that I can’t answer, such as “How much does the earth weigh?” or “Is my father smart?” (I’m kidding about the latter comment … sort of). In all seriousness, the Echo has enriched and satisfies our intellectual curiosity while making our lives a bit more productive today and a lot more productive tomorrow. 

Amazon’s Echo product hooks up to your WiFi network. You need to call the Echo “Alexa” in order for her to function. Recently while I was making dinner, I asked our Echo to order more cinnamon by simply saying, “Alexa, order more cinnamon from Prime.” Yes, it is that easy. I then asked, “Alexa, play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from Prime.” My eldest son then quickly shouted, “Alexa, play Green Day from Prime!” I then asked, “Alexa, set an alarm for 15 minutes.” When the 15-minute alarm chimed, I promptly asked my Green Day-loving kid to brush his teeth and go to bed. 

There might be some security issues, though, with voice-based operating systems, making IoT potentially stand for “internet of threats.” The issue is that all of the voice commands are stored in the cloud. This could result in material privacy issues. In fact, I have to tell my kids that I just learned that every Echo command is actually recorded on my iPad as well. Below are a few actual screen prints of questions they asked. 

Echo command image

Amazon has by far the best voice-based consumer operating system platform on the market. Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana both pale in comparison. The Echo is, however, not without limitations. Many questions can’t be answered by the Echo at this point. We have learned how to ask questions in different ways, though. For example, if Alexa can’t help us with a question, just rephrase it as “Alexa Wikipedia Jay Z” and the Echo will read you a few lines from on the aforementioned topic. 

Many Echo users are starting to control their Hue light bulbs and other IoT devices in their homes by speaking commands to Alexa. What Photoshop is to Windows or the Mac O/S, these current and future household IoT devices are to Echo, which is emerging as the de facto audible operating system / server of choice to these client IoT devices. CTOs and CIOs will likely soon look into audible-based API calls to Echo or competing Echo products as another way to reach their customers. 

In the future, Alexa could be an app that runs on any smartphone and stays with you wherever you go, making this potentially the most important audible Trojan horse in the history of platform computing. The next operating system that matters is voice. 

Chris Haroun founded and is a venture partner at San Francisco-based ARTIS Ventures. He is also a graduate business school professor at several Bay Area universities. He is on the boards of several companies and charities including Bracket Computing and the LEMO Foundation. Previously, Chris started a few technology/finance companies, worked at Goldman Sachs, Accenture and Citadel. He managed and raised over $1 billion in technology investments. He can be reached at or on LinkedIn.






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