July 14, 2015

Chances are, if you never knew a person named Siri or Cortana, that all changed a few years back thanks to Apple and Microsoft.

The two tech giants engineered voice assistants that are now as ubiquitous in tech conversations as the devices they live on. Google quickly followed suit with its Google Now assistant, but do you hear that? There’s an echo.

Amazon recently announced the launch of its newest gadget; part wireless speaker, part voice-controlled assistant: meet the Amazon Echo. With a voice-powered persona named Alexa, the Echo is Amazon’s not-so-subtle way of entering the Internet of Things marketplace.

As CNET’s David Conroy and Ben Fox Rubin explain, the Echo’s “Alexa” is different from assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now because she doesn’t live within a mobile device – at least not yet. For the time being, Alexa is strictly housed within the Echo speaker, but her capabilities mimic those of other IoT innovations. Through a series of simple voice commands, Alexa syncs with smart home technology to dim lights, set reminders and play music, among other things. Most convenient of all is that she inherently syncs with Amazon.com, making any potential restocking of household goods closer than a click away.

While the Echo is being applauded for its voice-recognition software, people who purchased it for its full range of capabilities were not completely satisfied, citing that its speaker functionality falls short. In fact, Conroy goes so far as to say that, “if your preferred audio service — such as Spotify — isn’t natively supported, the Echo is little more than a “dumb” Bluetooth speaker.”

At the end of the day, it seems that the Echo’s real competitive advantage is Alexa. The Echo’s positive reception early on may only strengthen fodder for predictions that Amazon may consider integrating it into their other devices, including their Kindle e-readers and Fire streaming boxes.


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