What is Amazon Echo?

With Echo, Amazon guns for Google (Now) and Apple (Siri) in the battle for cloud supremacy. But there's a problem with that strategy.

Introducing Amazon Echo
“Alexa! Is it strange to stare lovingly at a plastic cylinder?” Amazon Echo invades the living room. This is a still from the promo video “Introducing Amazon Echo” – or, as most of us know it, “SNL Skits that Don’t Know they’re SNL Skits.” (watch the full video below)

Amazon Echo has popped up on the Amazon home page. I made a quick visit this morning to pick up some Canon DSLR batteries for some shoots we have over the weekend and there, low and behold, was the one of the oddest things.

Amazon Echo.

Amazon Echo?

Yes, you can say that again. At first glance it looks like a bluetooth speaker. A nicely designed one at that. Cylindrical in shape, about 9-inches tall, with a blue accent ring light along the top, this is a pretty looking little speaker.

Amazon Echo intelligent speaker
Amazon Echo. A combination speaker and voice service. Or, think of it as the offspring of a Jambox and Appple Siri. But why would anyone want one given we all have smartphones in our pockets and purses?

But what on earth is… Amazon Echo?

Why would anyone want Amazon Echo given we all have smartphones in our pockets and purses with the same functionality?

First, it’s one of the biggest tech surprises of 2014. And how great is that, all too often the tech media and blogs are all too well versed in what’s coming down the pike. Leaks and previews all but eliminate the joy of surprise, and the excitement surrounding something new that no one saw coming. On that count, at least, CEO Jeff Bezos and the team at Amazon have scored a (granted, perhaps minor) victory. The same could not be said of the Fire Phone – let’s hope Echo fares better.

At the tactical level, Amazon Echo is what I’d call an information appliance.

Echo listens for a wake word–much like you’d see in competing services from Google and Apple. Say “Alexa” and the device perks up, and listens for your command, question, or, rant:

“Will it rain tomorrow”

“Play my disco playlist”

“Add Tzatziki sauce to my shopping list”

Amazon-Echo-voice-recognition

So Echo gives you hands-free access to the power of the cloud. It’s kind of like Google search, but without the web browser.

Which brings me to the bigger picture. Echo is really Amazon’s answer to Google Now (“Ok Google!”) and Apple Siri (“Hey Siri!”). Because Amazon doesn’t own a mobile OS (it does have a custom version of Android, but that only runs on Amazon tablets and phones), to get this service into consumer’s hands, it needs an information appliance… hence, Echo. Meanwhile Google, with its Android OS and more recently its Android Wear platform, can embed voice and information services into a far wider diversity of devices.

Amazon Echo looks interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, but will soon — at this point you need to request an invitation to purchase. What has the world come to? We can thank Google for that red-rope type of silly marketing.

Amazon-Echo-features

The biggest challenge I see facing Amazon with this product ($199, or $99 for Prime members) is that it faces the already familiar and popular establishment, and that is:

Apple iPhones and Android Phones

All of them have voice recognition already built in. So why would I need something like Amazon Echo, when I already have a personal assistant in my purse or pocket?

Here’s the “Introducing Amazon Echo” promo video, that surely beat the SNL writers to the punch:

WATCH: Introducing Amazon Echo

[Amazon Echo]

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  • Will Hornberger

    Already requested an invitation to buy one. I wanted it before the video ended.

    • secs

      Who in gods name who want this in their home. Even when not in use, it’s listening 24/7. Why not just invite Bezos into the home to plant bugging devices.
      Samsung Galaxy already has voice activated virtual assistant. My iPhone 6 has “hey Siri” so why would anyone need amazons intrusive device.
      Additionally, Amazon Echo is a direct rip off of an already existing product in the stores called “Ivee” it’s a dedicated virtual assistant. Amazon even copied it’s cost of $199.99.. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of amazons hard sell. I also find much better pricing by searching bing or Google or eBay. Most vendors offer free shipping so why pay Amazon $99 per year.

      If you bought it on Amazon you grossly overpaid. Dow Jones reports amazons pricing is higher than competitors 70% of the time. I saved over $300 this week alone by searching bing and goggle and eBay for my items. Found far better pricing than Amazon and nearly every vendor gives free shipping without having to pay $99 per year. That smiley arrow on their box is symbolic of Bezos laughing all the way to the bank at all the less than savvy consumers who overpaid by shopping on Amazon.

      • Will Hornberger

        The government (if they really wanted to) can turn your phone mic on even when your phone is off and listen. Also what would Amazon want to so with the recorded sound. I trust companies ALOT more than the government.

      • Will Hornberger

        I get my invitation and bought one. Its in my bedroom right now.

  • secs

    Who in gods name who want this in their home. Even when not in use, it’s listening 24/7.

    Why not just invite Bezos into the home to plant bugging devices.
    Samsung Galaxy already has voice activated virtual assistant. My iPhone 6 has “hey Siri” so why would anyone need amazons intrusive device.

    Additionally, Amazon Echo is a direct rip off of an already existing product in the stores called “Ivee” it’s a dedicated virtual assistant. Amazon even copied it’s cost of $199.99.. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of amazons hard sell. I also find much better pricing by searching bing or Google or eBay. Most vendors offer free shipping so why pay Amazon $99 per year.

    I saved more than $300 this week alone by searching the Internet for my items and not buying on amazon