Commentary

Amazon Puts On An Echo; Some Say It's Not Ready For Prime Time

The Amazon Echo Show is officially launching today for $230 with all of the features that its cheaper Alexa-driven devices have plus a 7-inch touch screen that gives customers the ability to place video calls to folks with compatible devices, read the lyrics to songs they’re hearing, watch YouTube videos and actually see the products they’re ordering on impulse from the increasingly in-your-face-and-space retailer. 

And it’s already got a deal for just for you: Buy two and get $100 off. The reviews that have been filtering in for the past few days are decidedly mixed, however.

“In some important ways, the Show is unlike anything we’ve seen before, whether the original Echo or its competitors Google Home and Apple HomePod. The Show is part phone booth, part hands-free tablet, part countertop TV,” Geoffrey Fowler writes for the Wall Street Journal. But that’s after he’s already told us “this first version has limited skills that take advantage of the new screen — yet it is so intrusive, I was ready to yank the plug after a week.”

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“After a week of tests, while I concluded that the product is ideal on a kitchen counter or an office desk, I also decided it was superfluous if you already own an Echo speaker and a smartphone or tablet,” Brian X. Chen writes for the New York Times.

But Chen’s colleague, Farhad Manjoo, informs us that the Echo Show is the embodiment of Jef Raskin’s original vision for the Apple Macintosh in the 1970s before Steve Jobs decided to broaden its mandate. He agrees that it has yet to find its true purpose, and acknowledges it has some bugs to work out, but he concludes that it’s “a remarkable machine, not just for what it is now but for the way it clarifies Amazon’s vision of the future of computing. It’s becoming the model for a new kind of communal, household computer — a resurrection of Mr. Raskin’s idea of an information appliance, as opposed to Mr. Jobs’s vision of an all-purpose PC.”

On the mostly positive side, “you get a far more useful version of Alexa …. It can offer more information, sometimes before you even ask,” writes David Pierce for Wired. “Creepy? Definitely. But also one of the best examples of the always listening, endlessly personalized world quickly coming for everyone. For better and for worse.” 

Similarly, The Verge is smitten with the “gadget restraint” Amazon has exhibited “on getting the stuff that already works on the Echo to work with a screen.” He concludes: “From nearly any other company, adding a screen would have resulted in feature-itis of the worst kind. By holding back, the Echo Show feels like it does more. Its strength is in its simplicity.”

On the extremely negative side, “Just Say No To Amazon's Echo Show,” reads the hed to John C. Dvorak’s review for PC magazine. “Watch the commercial Amazon put out to tout this videophone with Alexa and you'll fall into deep hate with the very idea, if not out-right despise the product,” the subhed elaborates.

Suffice to say Dvorak doesn't think much of the creative execution featuring a young couple with twins and a grandpa with a whippersnapper kindergartner. But his more critical point is this: “This device will be hacked in record-breaking time. Perverts from around the world will be ‘dropping in.’”

So will paid performers and mainstream media types. The device also points to the ways that media companies will need to adapt their delivery of news and entertainment, like it or not.

Variety’s Janko Roettgers tells us that media companies are already “embracing” the device’s Flash Briefing feature, the “customizable playlist of news updates that can be requested with a simple voice command like ‘Alexa, tell me the news.’ Echo Show owners get to see videos as part of their Flash Briefings — and media companies have already started to produce video flash briefings … as well as bring additional videos to the device via dedicated Alexa skills.”  

For example, you can summon a video recap of the opening monologue for NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” watch People’s “entertainment news-heavy video flash briefing with host Jeremy Parsons at 7 a.m. ET” or see a live feed of Bloomberg TV, stock charts and market summary videos.

Or you can always engage in even more useful pursuits, such as “Alexa, find me that video of a dog that looks like a tarantula.”

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