Jun 8, 2020 - Technology

Alexa education app Bamboo Learning branches out to Google

An image from a promotional video for the Bamboo Luminaries trivia app. Screenshot: Axios (via YouTube)
An image from a promotional video for the Bamboo Luminaries trivia app. Screenshot: Axios (via YouTube)

Bamboo Learning, a startup led by a former Amazon executive that primarily delivers educational content to Alexa-enabled smart speakers, on Monday comes to Google's rival ecosystem for the first time.

The big picture: Smart speakers offer opportunities for new categories of applications, but it remains difficult to make money in the market, which helps explain the relative dearth of startups focused on the space.

Details: Bamboo is bringing to Google Assistant its Bamboo Luminaries app, a trivia game that covers both prominent and lesser-known influential historical figures from fields ranging from literature and science to sports, film and social justice.

  • Bamboo's other titles, which include math, music and books apps, remain Amazon-only for now. Most of Bamboo's apps and content remain free.
  • Ian Freed, who once led Amazon's Kindle business, is CEO of the six-person company.
  • "Our goal is to build a large audience," Freed said. "We've made steady progress on that," he added, declining to give any usage numbers.

The company did say it has seen a marked increase in usage this year, as kids were sent home from school during the pandemic. Giving kids a laptop and Zoom can work out for older students, but it's not an option for working parents with kids in the early grades.

  • "It's the elementary school kids left without anything to be able to do independently" that Bamboo aims to help, says Irina Fine, Bamboo's co-founder and a 30-year veteran of elementary education curriculum work.
  • Young children — even pre-readers — can run smart speaker apps without needing a parent around, Fine said.
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