Amazon quietly unveiled the new Echo speaker earlier in the week, and while its launch may have thrown some people off due to its rather odd nature, it nonetheless stands out as one of the company’s most interesting products yet.
Like Apple’s Siri voice-activated virtual assistant, the Amazon Echo responds to voice commands, and can perform varied tasks. It is capable of setting alarms, playing music, reading the news, and can even crack jokes if asked to. The Echo responds by default to the name “Alexa,” and it looks like users would be able to program a “wake word” of their choice if they don’t like the default name/command. Other than that, the Echo works like other Bluetooth speakers do – it can stream music, supporting several streaming services including Spotify and Pandora.
As Echo arrived with lots of promise, it has also attracted its share of skeptics and believers. ABI Research analyst Jonathan Collins, who was recently interviewed by Mashable, is somewhere in between, expressing cautious optimism about the device’s prospects. “Smart home devices are a growing market, and Amazon knows this: it set up a smart home store on its site a year ago,” he said. “Echo brings a potential new interface into the smart home space, but it will initially be limited to its ‘listening’ and speaker capabilities.”
The Amazon Echo won’t be released to the mass market just yet, though interested buyers can go to the Amazon website and request an invitation; apparently, the initial release is invite-only. Amazon Prime members will be able to buy the Echo at an introductory price of $99 for a limited period of time, while the actual retail price is $199.