*Update (November 2015)
Many people have emailed me or asked me questions about the Amazon Echo since we wrote the original post back in May. The original post is also one of of the most popular on the blog! We thought it would be valuable to provide an update as the Echo continues to garner great reviews, such as Wired’s endorsement that the Echo is 2015’s “perfect lazy gift”.
I’m happy to report that we continue to be very pleased with the Echo’s performance. Amazon added Pandora integration and the voice commands grow ever more capable of understanding nuance. Say, for example, you’re at a family gathering and the kids are making a lot of noise. You can now say “Alexa, play music for kids” and the Echo will automatically start playing kids music.
Amazon is also expanding Echo’s capabilities through Alexa “Skills” (which can be found inside the Echo app) which appear to be widgets created to add functionality to Echo’s already impressive voice command category. You can now ask Alexa to check Bitcoin prices, calculate someone’s age by giving Alexa their birthday, get Fantasy Football News, generate a haiku, tell knock knock jokes, and a ton more (including getting stock prices, a feature some people have asked me about before). It appears that Amazon has released an Echo developer kit so that anyone can create and submit new features. That seems like a game changer to me: with the Echo gaining traction and its nascent ability to integrate smarthome features such as WeMo lights, the ever-expanding repertoire of capabilities is going to put the Echo in more and more homes. One of the differentiators of Apple’s closed-universe product line is the access to millions of apps that comes with staying inside the universe. If Amazon is able to follow suit with a capable in-home device, I can see them very quickly becoming a big player in the home automation world, perhaps unintentionally (at least, given the original focus and design of the Echo, which was to play music and enable purchase of products through Amazon).
*Original post follows
Alexa, write this blog post for me
In mid-January 2015 I was one of the lucky (or just very willing to have my privacy completely compromised all the time) few Amazon Prime members to get Amazon Echo. The day Echo was publicly announced, I signed up via the Amazon website, which is probably why I got it so early. Some good friends of ours are still waiting for one.
Demand for the product must be pretty high. Amazon initially offered the Echo for 50% off to Prime members ($100 for a retail $200 product) and now the price for members is $150. There is also a brisk secondary market for new and barely used Echos on Craiglist / Ebay going for or above sales price.
Is it worth it? Is it a life changer as the sort of weird Amazon commercial implies? (I mean really is the whole family going to yell stuff at this HAL2000 looking device?)