Amazon’s Echo Joins The Virtual Assistant Race
As mobile devices and the “internet of things” take hold in the post-PC era, “assistants” are starting claim the spotlight from search. Now Amazon has joined Apple, Google, Microsoft and others in introducing its own entry into that category called “Echo.” Echo is a tall cylindrical speaker that can play music, respond to voice commands and answer questions. […]
As mobile devices and the “internet of things” take hold in the post-PC era, “assistants” are starting claim the spotlight from search. Now Amazon has joined Apple, Google, Microsoft and others in introducing its own entry into that category called “Echo.”
Echo is a tall cylindrical speaker that can play music, respond to voice commands and answer questions. It can also make lists. But is Echo a sophisticated music player that can do other stuff or is it a virtual assistant that happens to be a speaker?
This is how Amazon describes Echo:
Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It’s always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.” It’s also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound.
Google’s Amit Sighal keeps talking about building the Star Trek computer and “perfect personal assistant.” The concept of the virtual or personal assistant starts with mobile but increasingly is reaching across platforms.
The virtual assistant also supersedes conventional search. Search technology in most cases is built in; however “assistants” offer much broader utility and functionality than a basic search box and page of results.
Echo costs $199, which will make it affordable and popular with many consumers. It also comes with a companion app or browser-based site in the case of iOS. Right now you have to receive an invitation to buy Echo, which is discounted to $99 for Prime members.
One can be cynical and see it as a data-collection tool for Amazon or, given the failure of Fire Phone and the flattening of Kindle Fire sales, another device to keep consumers hooked into Amazon’s ecosystem and content.
I do think more broadly that it’s a prediction — and I believe a correct one — that the connected home of the future will be controlled from a central device or hub that will be voice enabled. This may be Amazon’s opening salvo in that arena.
Another similar but even more ambitious product is Jibo.
The device is called Echo but it requires a different “wake word” (like “OK Google”) to activate. That wake word in this case is “Alexa.” Of course Amazon owns Alexa.com, which is an analytics and traffic measurement tool. But Alexa is also suggestive of a female persona analogous to Siri and Cortana. Google’s voice persona is also female, although it doesn’t have a name.
This dual naming, Echo and Alexa, is very strange from a branding perspective. But the product is very intriguing and the aggressive pricing likely means that it will sell.
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