Commentary

That Sound You Hear Is Amazon's Alexa Expanding Her Domain

The physics of reverberation are very much in play at Amazon, which announced yesterday that the success of its voice-activated personal assistant, the $180 Echo, has spawned two less-expensive offshoots — the Amazon Tap and the Echo Dot. They, too, feature Alexa, the default “wake word” wetware must use to interact with the devices.

The Tap, a $130 Bluetooth speaker that ships starting March 31, “uses Alexa's voice-controlled features when connected to a WiFi network,” reports Hayley Tsukayama for the Washington Post. “Unlike other Alexa-based products, the Tap is portable and battery-powered, promising nine hours of use between charging. It also requires you to actually hit the button on the top of the speaker to speak to Alexa, so there's no need to yell your requests at her.” 

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The Echo Dot “features all of the same smarts as the original Amazon Echo, but without the full-size speaker,” reports Ry Crist for CNET. “Instead, you plug Dot into your existing audio setup, putting Alexa in control of it. That's an intriguing solution for audiophiles who aren't sold on the quality of the Echo or Tap's sound.”

“In a marketing gimmick, the Dot will only be available initially to Amazon Prime members who own an Echo or Fire TV device (which also accepts voice commands). These customers will have to order the Dot by telling Alexa, ‘Alexa, order Echo Dot,’” writes Jason Del Ray for Re/code. It will be made more widely available in the future, according to Amazon’s SVP of devices, David Limp.

And, points out BGR’s Jacob Siegal, “This might sound overly complicated, but Amazon is marketing the Echo Dot as a complementary product. While the primary Echo device might sit in the living room, the Echo Dot can bring Alexa to the bedroom or the study, allowing customers to kit out their entire houses with Alexa-powered devices.”

But wait, there’s more. 

“If Amazon views the Echo as the hub for the connected home, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap are just further extensions that may enable constant communication,” writes Ryan Mac for Forbes. “The Dot, which must be tethered to an electrical outlet, can connect to any set of speakers via Bluetooth or audio cables, giving users Alexa’s capabilities on sound devices much louder than the Amazon Echo.”

“Of course, there's a potential flip side to the fact that Echo and other voice-driven products are always listening that has raised red flags among privacy and security experts, who just this week at the RSA security conference, launched the Voice Privacy Industry Group,” Edward C. Baig remind us in USA Today.

But the IoT just keeps doing its thing, oblivious to the caution-mongers.

“When Amazon released the Echo in late 2014, people didn’t quite know what to make of it. … Smarter than a stereo but dumber than a virtual assistant like Siri, it seemed like a novelty gadget, albeit a fun and somewhat useful one,” writes Will Oremus for Slate. “It’s looking less like a novelty now — and more like part of a grand plan by Amazon to take over your living room.”

Indeed, “Amazon hopes to out-maneuver rivals Google and Apple in their battle to build hubs in ‘smart’ homes that are being furnished with appliances, electronics and other accoutrements that connect to the Internet,” writes the AP’s Michael Liedtke.

“Alexa is competing against other voice-controlled services such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google's search engine that are built into the operating systems of smartphones and other devices that do more than the Echo.”

But indications are that it’s competing very well.

“The new devices suggest that Amazon has an expansive vision for the Echo, which looked like an experiment for the company when it was introduced in late 2014,” writes Farhad Manjoo for the New York Times. “The company has not provided sales data for the device, but it has said that sales exceeded its expectations and that customer reviews are rhapsodic.”

“The response has been nothing short of incredible,” Limp said at Amazon’s event unveiling the new hardware. “This is almost unprecedented in the history of Amazon, to see this much demand and love for a product.”

If at first you do succeed, try, try ... again.

1 comment about "That Sound You Hear Is Amazon's Alexa Expanding Her Domain".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 4, 2016 at 10:16 a.m.

    When you absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt need someone to listen to you because no one else does....

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