Commentary

Amazon's Echo Hopes To Hear Echo Upon Echo: 'Buy,' 'Buy,' 'Buy'

Right now, Amazon is touting such features as its ability to quickly and flawlessly spell “cantaloupe.” And you can only add items you  have a sudden hankering to acquire — cantaloupes, say — to a shopping list. But make no mistake about what a new personal- assistant device called Echo is meant to become. 

“The device is ostensibly about playing music and providing information,” writes Marcus Wohlsen on Wired.com. “But, ultimately, it looks like yet another gadget Amazon hopes to use as a way of driving retail purchases.”

On The Huffington Post, Timothy Stenovec ledes with: “Amazon wants to make it as easy as possible for you to buy every single thing it sells, from diapers to groceries to streaming movies.”

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Developed at its Lab 126 R&D subsidiary, “Echo is a connected loudspeaker that doubles as a smart assistant, thanks to seven integrated microphones that are used for voice input,” GigaOm’s Janko Roettgers reports.

“And here’s the twist: Echo doesn’t just take voice commands around the music and radio programs. Instead, it’s much closer to Apple’s Siri or Google Now, allowing users to compile shopping lists, read weather reports, set alarms and reminders and even read Wikipedia articles.”

Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper and Brad Stone tell us that “Echo works when a consumer speaks the word ‘Alexa’ to wake the device up. The gadget is connected to the Internet and runs on Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud-computing service. Over time, Echo can adjust to consumers’ speech patterns and personal preferences, Amazon said.”

“We think it makes everyday life a bit easier — when you have a question or want to do something, all you have to do is ask,” an Amazon spokeswoman tells CNet’s Dona Tam.

Amazon has put together a 3:54 video that “seems at first like a parody or a glimpse into some dystopian vision of the near-future,” Todd Wasserman writes on Mashable. A nuclear family time-warped right out of the ’50s puts the Echo though the paces of everything from announcing the time to telling a joke or two. 

“Though for some this is an appealing vision, my initial response was to ask, What fresh hell is this?” Wasserman writes of the video. “Corporate America is looking to use the Internet of Things as a Trojan horse to penetrate our remaining private moments,” he feels. 

It’s Amazon’s world, and we’re welcomed to it, eh? 

“Amazon doesn’t want to be a destination anymore; they don’t want to be something you have to go to; they want to be ubiquitous,” writes Greg Kumparak on TechCrunch. “They want their store ‘front end’ to be floating in the ether all around you, just waiting for you to open your mouth.”

But “Amazon clearly learned its lesson with the way it marketed the Fire Phone (and the $83 million worth of phones they have sitting around),” he concludes. “People don’t like to know they’re spending money just to make it easier to spend even more money. But the motivation here hasn’t changed.”

“Siri-like” pops up frequently as a modifier for Alexa, but Amazon is ahead of the curves at Apple and everywhere else. 

“This move by Amazon, though rational, is a bit early, at least compared to competitors' home-based efforts, and should catch the others a bit off guard, which is a good thing for Amazon, a company still reeling from its Fire Phone experiment which came too late to join the mobile phone party,” Forrester analyst James McQuivey points out in an email. 

“The risk for Amazon is that Vox may end up being too early, setting the table for a party that consumers aren't ready to join. But there's no better way to find that out than to try….” 

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter is skeptical of Echo’s prospects, as Stone and Soper report. “I think it’s just a two-way speaker, but why isn’t there an app that lets me do the same thing without having to spend $99 on hardware?” Pachter says. “I think this is a solution that is seeking a problem.”

As the for nitty-gritty, Echo is $199 for the unPrimed masses; $99 for Prime members “for a limited time only.” It’s “ALWAYS READY, CONNECTED AND FAST. JUST ASK,” reads the copy on the promo page where you can “request an invitation” to purchase the device “in coming weeks” — but only “if selected.”

Promises. Promises. To echo Freud, “What does Alexa want?”

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