“When it first arrived from Amazon, I didn’t know what it was,” says a little girl in Amazon’s new online ad. And she wasn’t alone — I was also stumped by Thursday’s announcement of Amazon Echo. But it looks like Amazon has created an entirely new category of device!
But let’s let Amazon have the first word. Their ad shows a family — the dad is excited — opening a newly-arrived package from Amazon. We learn that Echo is always on, but it only hears you when you say a “wake” word out loud: Alexa. “Alexa, what do you do?” asks the father.
“I can play music, answer questions, get the news and weather, create to-do lists, and much more.”
“Awesome!” says the family’s teenaged son. “Alexa, play rock music.” And she does!
It’s a little black cylinder — just over 9 inches tall, and three inches wide. (Imagine bending the top of a ruler to get a sense of its size…) And Amazon’s ad shows a surprising number of cases where Echo would come in handy. How tall is Mt. Everest? How do you spell cantaloupe? How many teaspoons in a tablespoon? What day is this?
Echo answers every question — and can even launch your music playlists whenever you ask. A “companion app” lets you control the device from your phone (or your Kindle tablet). Amazon’s Echo device can also function as a gentle alarm clock, or deliver “flash news briefings” from your local radio stations (or ESPN, or NPR…) And I was impressed that Echo even recognizes te command “Tell me a joke!”
With Echo you can also add things to your shopping list — or a to-do list — just by saying them out loud. I wasn’t sure what it was — but it didn’t fool the headline writers at Apple Insider, who called it “a stand-alone Siri-like assistant for your home.” But it seems to me that’s missing the point, since Siri is only on when it’s back in your charger (and not in your pocket). Imagine having a separate device in your home, just for taking dictation or providing a voice-activated way to instantly look up information.
Best of all, it’s only $99 — if you’re an Amazon Prime member, and you’re lucky enough to get an “invitation” from Amazon to try it out. Echo will ultimately be tapping “the cloud” for some of its information — along with Wikipedia — so Amazon may want to first try a “soft roll-out” with just a smaller number of users. When it’s released to the general public, Echo will retail for $199.
Echo can stream music from Pandora, Spotify, and even from iTunes. And of course, it also plays music from your Amazon Music Library, as well as the 1 million-plus songs available through Amazon Prime Music. And honestly, it seems like it’d make a really awesome Christmas gift.
“Alexa, play ‘Tonight, We Are Young’ by fun….”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s Echo page, point your browser to