15 Mar Tech Tuesday: Amazon Echo, and Why It Matters
The Amazon Echo
The Amazon Echo. Heard of it?
In the ever-changing realm of smart home technology, Amazon has made a splash with the Amazon Echo, the company’s first smart speaker device for the home. Dubbed “The Ringmaster of the home automation circus,” it is a hands-free speaker that is controlled by your voice. It’s always on, it’s always connected to the cloud, and the applications this device are truly only confined to your imagination.
Why does any of this matter? You might be wondering what else the Amazon Echo does for you, other than switching on a Pandora radio station or responding to a question you may have about the weather. Let me set the stage for you.
Remember 2006? Ten years ago, what did your personal cell phone look like? Chances are, if you had one, it was a basic carrier-provided phone, and if you did have a smart phone, it was most likely a Blackberry. If you tried to use the Internet on your phone, it was a terrible experience. Industry analysts predicted that the smartphone market would grow in popularity, but slowly.
The next year, the iPhone was released.
Before the iPhone, touch screen phones were still regarded as a futuristic idea — and then, there it was. Consumers flooded the smartphone industry at a rate that astonished. The iPhone was transformative, and quickly changed every assumption there was about the industry, and therefore had a ripple effect that changed the way nearly every mobile company approached the market. Even today, can you imagine how life would be without this transformation in the smartphone industry?
I think that the Amazon Echo will have a similar effect on the home automation industry.
What is it?
At just $179.99, the Echo is a smartly designed device with an audio system inside. As it’s always connected to the WiFi, it has access to a vast pool of resources online, apps, as well as compatibility with an array of smart home devices. You interact with the device by voice, and address the system by beginning your command or question by “Alexa…”
Echo’s use of Alexa is more intuitive and natural than you can imagine, and users quickly adapt to it as second nature. Plus, it’s application is ever-growing: Amazon is continually updating Echo with new updates of their own services, and with a huge variety of entertainment and information content through the web, a growing pool of their party apps, and the huge number of your own connected devices, the value grows every day. You may initially be sold on a simple voice-controlled wireless speaker, but what you really get is an amazingly powerful home command center.
How to Use It
In the Living Room
Echo easily connects through it’s app to major audio streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and (of course) Amazon’s Prime Music. Once it’s connected, simply say something like “Alexa, play the ‘Today’s Top Hit’s’ station on Spotify,” and you’ll have tunes streaming through your home. Music playback is controlled through natural voice commands like Next, Previous, Stop, and Pause. You can also tell Alexa to turn the volume up or down. Since Alexa is constantly listening for commands through multiple microphones, it’s easy to command your tunes to your liking, any time. This is also easily applied to audio books through Audible and Kindle Unlimited subscriptions.
You can also tap into a vast web resource for most information online. This makes it incredibly easy to ask Alexa a question any time you’re wondering about something. Alexa has an uncanny ability to interpret what it is you’re asking and to provide a specific response. Wondering when your favorite sports team is playing, or the hours of your usually Thai take-out spot? Alexa can tell you all that, and more.
In the Kitchen
Since the kitchen is usually the central hub of the home, it makes sense to keep Echo here. Blast your favorite music during your fall bake-athon, or ask for help with recipes at the drop of a hat. Alexa makes it super convenient when you’re needing to convert recipes or find ingredient substitutions by simply asking. For example, if you have a party of 8 but a recipe is designed for 12, just ask Alexa to convert the amount of ingredients needed as you go. Don’t have buttermilk? Alexa can find an easy substitution awaiting your command.
I love the idea of listening to the local news or podcasts while cooking. Since the kitchen table usually ends up as the homework spot for the kids, I think it’d be a great way to ask for a quick how-to or a fact check when your little students get stuck on a problem. Bonus!
In the Bedroom
The Echo is especially useful in the bedroom if you have other smart devices in your home: connecting to your smart home hub means you can turn down the lights or kick up the A/C from your cozy bed by asking Alexa. Alarms are easily set and rung without ever having to touch your smart phone. Ever do that thing where you have to track down your smart phone to check the weather when picking out your outfit for the day? With Echo, just ask Alexa what the weather is.
Echo works with Philips Hue, SmartThings, Wink, and WeMo devices, making them all controlled by voice. Have the WeMo coffee maker? Let Alexa know you’ll be expecting a warm cuppa joe once you wake up.
On your way out, you can even order an Uber ride through the app, all by voice. Now that’s true convenience!
These are just a few simple examples for the usability of the Amazon Echo, but it’s really just a small scratch on the surface. I believe this device can be wildly disruptive — in a good way — to elder and home care industries, to small home businesses and more. The machine learning built into Alexa could result in helping our home systems become more efficient by anticipating needs and behaviors, and becoming more convenient and less costly over time. I just cannot wait to see how the Amazon Echo will effect the home automation industry and more in the years to come!
More Info: Amazon.com
Do you have the Amazon Echo? Share your experience with us in the comments below!