The news of Panos Panay’s sudden departure from Microsoft was quickly eclipsed by the revelation of where he was going: Amazon.
A 19-year veteran of Microsoft who was the face of the company’s Surface team, Panay was slated to take the stage at a Microsoft Surface event in New York City on Wednesday. But now, he’s more likely to turn up at Amazon’s competing hardware event at its new Virginia facility instead.
Panay will reportedly be taking charge of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo divisions, among other duties. He’ll be replacing Dave Limp, himself a longtime and well respected executive at Amazon who was the company’s lead for devices and services, including Alexa. Limp announced his retirement from Amazon back in August, following a 13-year tenure.
Panay, a dynamic leader as well as a “passionate voice for the consumer,” as PCWorld’s Mark Hachman wrote, will be landing at Amazon just as its Alexa division faces some of the greatest challenges in its history.
Amazon’s Alexa unit was rocked by a series of layoffs last year amid reports that it lost Amazon billions of dollars in 2022. A lengthy Insider profile called Alexa a “division in crisis,” with sources describing a group beset by “low morale, failed monetization attempts, and a lack of engagement across users and developers.”
Meanwhile, some of the biggest–and wildest–new devices to come out of Amazon’s devices team have gone nowhere fast. Amazon’s Alexa-powered Astro, a wheeled robot first unveiled back in 2021, has yet to emerge from its “Day 1” early access status, while the executive in charge of the bot project departed Amazon back in May. Other experiments, such as the Alexa-enabled Loop ring, landed with a thud and were quickly discontinued.
At the same time, the rise of generative AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard have made Alexa sound like a dullard in comparison, offering clunky, long-winded, and repetitive answers to questions that ChatGPT and Bard could otherwise smoothly handle (even if some of the answers are tied together by AI-created hallucinations).
So Panay is facing some seriously choppy surf as he wades into the Amazon waters. Can Panay reinvigorate an increasingly staid line of Echo products (wild Astro experiments notwithstanding), as well as usher Alexa into our generative AI present?
Obviously, we won’t get the answer on Wednesday–heck, the man just got there–but Panay’s runway for getting Alexa back on track is looking distressingly short.