|Thu Nov 6 2014 22:53:46|
Amazon Echo - A Stay-at-Home Butler
By: Ina Steiner
Amazon launched a new gadget on Thursday that has people talking - and the company didn't even issue a press release. "Amazon just surprised everyone with a crazy speaker that talks to you," was the headline on TheVerge.com.
Instead, Amazon used its homepage and social media to get the word out about the brand new Amazon Echo. But what is it? Like Apple iPhone's Siri, you ask it questions, and the Amazon Echo provides answers. A key difference - it's not in smartphone form, but rather, it's a cylindrical speaker suited for any room in your home.
"Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It's always on - just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, "Alexa." It's also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound."
In an age when everything is about the mobile Web, the Amazon Echo is deliberately home-bound. You even keep it plugged in rather than having to charge it.
But it's not without a mobile component altogether. In its article, "Amazon Introduces Echo, A Voice-Controlled Speaker That Functions As Google Now For Your Desk," Android Police notes:
"The inclusion of a companion app is essential, because as good as voice recognition software has become, there are still times when it flat out fails. A large part of Echo's success will depend on how well it performs in this area. If it's faster to pull out my phone than to yell at my Echo for the umpteenth time, that's what I'm going to do."
Other news outlets accused Amazon of having an ulterior motive for launching such a device. "Amazon's Weird Siri-Like Speaker Is Yet Another Way to Get You to Shop," was Wired's headline. "For Amazon, the sound of you making your shopping list has the ring of money in the bank," it wrote.
And Tech Crunch's blog post, "Let's Call The Amazon Echo What It Is," editorialized:
"But just be clear on why Amazon would want to build something like this. Amazon doesn't want to be a destination anymore; they don't want to be something you have to go to; they want to be ubiquitous. They want their store "front end" to be floating in the ether all around you, just waiting for you to open your mouth.
Amazon already has a voice-enabled shopping device for the home in the form of the Amazon Dash scanning wand, which connects to home Wi-Fi networks. The Dash has a microphone, so you can say or scan items, view the list on your desktop or mobile device, and then purchase and schedule delivery. However, it only works with AmazonFresh grocery accounts for now.
What do people think of the new Amazon Echo? Here are some comments from Twitter:
That is an absolutely creepy device and idea.
@amazon attach it to a Roomba and make it an R2 unit.
How does a stationary device fit into knowledge flow?
@amazon I'm not usually an early adopter. Why do I want this immediately?!?
@amazon What does it actually do?
@amazon Amazon seriously WTF is wrong with you guys lately? First the Fire phone, now this?
Who is approving these horrible ideas?
@amazon not sure the point of this product, my phone already does all of this
@amazon THIS IS SO COOL
With the Echo, you can find answers to your questions, have it wake you up in the morning, remind you of appointments, take notes, create shopping lists and play music. Like Siri, only it stays put and you don't have to press and hold a button to talk to it - a sort of Jeeves for the rest of us.
(And by the way, since it works on a home wifi connection, the cost is the price of the device - no monthly phone bill.)
Apple set out to make an easy-to-use smart phone, and succeeded with the iPhone. This looks like Amazon's attempt to make an easy-to-use smart speaker. Is there more to it than that?
Here's a link to the Echo page on Amazon.