Amazon surprises us with Echo, a voice-powered smart assistant

Echo channels Siri-like intelligence to power your home. Also, it might spy on you. 

 

Allen Weiner

Tech

Published Nov 6, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 6:24 am CDT

Equal parts weird and wonderful, Amazon Echo has appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Echo is a voice-controlled, cylindrical speaker that is a shade over nine-inches high, packed with sensors, woofers, tweeters, and a seven-way microphone.

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Echo has an unspecific ship date and currently requires an invite to pre-order. The retail price is $199, but for Prime members (lucky enough to score an invite) the pre-sale price is $99.

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If at this point you still don’t really “get” the Echo, the company has provided a lengthy video showing the new device in action.

Echo operates on voice commands which must be preceded by a “trigger” word. For example, the family in the video has the trigger word, Alexa. A command would be “Alexa, what time is it? Or, what are the latest headlines? Or, play “All Out of Love” by Air Supply.” Echo connects to local devices via Bluetooth to stream content from downloaded applications as well as to the Amazon’s cloud, which accesses a vast array of encyclopedic knowledge from the Web.

In addition to being able to recognize voices across a room, the new device comes with a voice-operated remote that’s similar to the one that works with the Amazon Fire TV box. Echo operates via Wi-Fi and offers a controller app for Fire OS, Android, iOS, and Web browsers. The Echo app likely will come with some content services pre-loaded.

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And of course behind all of this cutting edge technology, Echo is yet another way for Amazon to know more about its customers. Currently, the company gathers data on what you shop for, read, watch, and listen to and uses it to create special offers as well as design new products and services. Based on the queries a family asks, Amazon can learn a lot about interests, hobbies, and on and on and on. And maybe Echo will be smart enough to learn specific family member’s voices and from there be able to parse even more specific data.

Despite any creepy factor, Twitter is generally excited about the prospect of Echo.

This actually looks pretty cool. I might give one out to my team. http://t.co/Q1khlZdTLe

— Joedinho (@notjoeymack) November 6, 2014

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Amazon echo. The one thing i really feel could bring home automation up a notch. via /r/homeautomation http://t.co/kqz3ALVl2f

— Robert Moore (@robert_moore_) November 6, 2014

Yikes! That Amazon Echo thing really takes the wind out of @TheUbi’s sails. Let’s hope Ubi can pivot out of the way!

— Kris (@krssctt) November 6, 2014

Naturally there is a healthy skepticism that Echo is a Trojan Horse used to gather information about everyday activities. Mundane queries could be used for… who even knows.

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Mr. @Grg from @TechCrunch broke this down well. Impressive tech! http://t.co/1Bz7SG1OcW #AmazonEcho

— Adarsh Varghese (@AdarshVarghese) November 6, 2014

H/T TechCrunch / Photo via Amazon

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*First Published: Nov 6, 2014, 6:02 pm CST