Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Amazon Echo

Amazon announced their "Echo" product last week. It is an odd device: a WiFi-connected microphone and speaker with a sort of AI interface similar to Apple's Siri.

My first thought was - why not just use Siri? With iOS 8, iPhones listen for the trigger phrase "Hey Siri" when plugged into power. So I tried it. I updated an old iPhone 4S to iOS 8.1, plugged it into a powered speaker dock, and started talking at it.

Now granted, the speaker dock partially blocked the iPhone's microphone, but performance was pretty dismal. I had to be within three feet and raise my voice to get consistent acknowledgement, and even then the voice recognition was not all that great.

Amazon is claiming that the Echo's array of seven microphones will allow you to talk to it from accross the room, with accurate voice recognition. There's really no way to test that until the Echo starts shipping, but it's a fairly dubious claim.

Being able to accurately tell a speaker like this to play music using only voice commands is mildly interesting. The only really interesting advertised feature is verbally adding items to a shopping list. But that's not worth two hundred dollars to me.

But what if, what if, Amazon has included Z-wave and Zigbee antennas inside this thing? If this turns out to be a reliably voice-activated smart home controller, well...

Well, I would buy at least three.

"Echo, turn off the lights and shut down the house. It's bed time."

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