Amazon today quietly unveiled a new product dubbed Amazon Echo. The $200 device appears to be a voice-activated wireless speaker that can answer your questions, offer updates on what’s going in the world, and of course play music.
Echo is currently available for purchase via an invite-only system. If you have Amazon Prime, however, you can get it for $100.
Echo is designed to be always on, so you can ask it anything you like. The device comes to life when you say the wake word, “Alexa.”
The feature list is as follows:
- News, weather, and information: Hear up-to-the-minute weather and news from a variety of sources, including local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn.
- Music: Listen to your Amazon Music Library, Prime Music, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.
- Alarms, timers, and lists: Stay on time and organized with voice-controlled alarms, timers, shopping and to-do lists.
- Questions and answers: Get information from Wikipedia, definitions, answers to common questions, and more.
Echo relies on Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud, so the promise is it will gain more functionality over time. Amazon also says the more you use Echo, the better it will get as it learns your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.
The device features an array of seven microphones, which Amazon boasts use “beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction.” The company is also promising enhanced noise cancellation, which means Echo can hear you ask a question even while it’s playing music.
In short, Amazon wants to bring the digital assistant to the living room.
The idea is a very interesting one, but it’s difficult to imagine there being a lot of demand. Given that many of these features are already offered in mobile devices, most users will be happy to continue getting updates to their assistants there. Then again, Google Now, Siri, and Cortana are far from perfect, so Amazon does have some wiggle room. We’ll have to reserve further judgment until we can get our hands on one.