Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days - InformationWeek

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Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days
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D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2015 | 12:33:31 PM
Privacy nightmare?
A lot has been written about the privacy implications of having an alway-on, Internet-connected microphone in your home, but as my son observed, "if somebody wants to listen in on our conversations, they must really be bored."

Alexa: How do you spell onomatopoeia? Alexa: What's the weather? Alexa: Play Miles Davis. Alexa: Set a timer for 25 minutes...

Do you really need to be concerned about the Echo log of these kinds of questions and requests? If you're really paranoid, you can delete the log and turn the microphone off. But if you feel that way, you might as well buy a Bluetooth speaker without voice-interaction capabilities.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2015 | 3:27:53 PM
Re: Privacy nightmare?
Doug, what about the list function? Say you needed some green beans to serve with that chicken -- you tell Echo to add beans to a shopping list, but where does that list reside? Could you make it a Google doc accessible from your phone?
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2015 | 3:35:45 PM
Re: Privacy nightmare?
The shopping lists and to-do lists are accessible from the Echo App, which can run on your phone, on tablets, on desktops or all of the above. You can also add profiles and Amazon accounts for multiple family members, and each could have separate lists.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2015 | 4:34:21 PM
Re: Privacy nightmare?
Ah, of course -- there must be an app-based ecosystem. Hopefully firmware upgrades will enable most of that future functionality,
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2015 | 4:44:22 PM
Re: Privacy nightmare?
I don't think firmware updates will be required. Alexa accesses information on in the cloud, so Amazon can improve both the voice recognition and the variety of requests and questions the service can answer on its end. The Echo tower is really just a Bluetooth speaker and an Internet-connected mic, with an amplifier and a bit of audio processing and noice-cancelling technology onboard.
Some Guy
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Some Guy,
User Rank: Strategist
1/7/2015 | 11:33:31 AM
Re: Privacy nightmare?
The first-order threat here is knowing if anyone is in the house or not (and further what room they are in). Makes it a lot less risky to break into your house if, for instance, I know where you are and can ransack your bedroom with impunity knowing where you are.
BryanG987
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BryanG987,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2015 | 11:37:35 AM
Echoing the first ten days
I've also had my echo for a few weeks now and for the most part, i agree with your assessment of it. It definitely for me seems to be the most help in the kitchen. Being able to start a timer and change/pause music with just my voice is very handy when cooking. Plus it is where I am most likely to use the shopping list ("Alexa, add butter to my shopping list" comes in handy to remember things).

My downsides to it are a little different than yours. For instance, I have used the Amazon music store for ages which means I am stuck with the Amazon Music Player. It is quite simply the worst app for managing/building playlists and has no ability to import a playlist that you build elsewhere (like iTunes). If you're dealing with a large music library, this gets really problematic. Secondly, it really could use a genius like feature. I can tell Echo "Play Rolling Stones" or "Play Classic Rock". What I can't do is say something like "Play music based on Sympathy for the Devil" and get a genius type of playlist. It's a good app for playback and the extra music available to prime subscribers is a really nice feature.

My other downside is I still find the voice recognition a little finicky on certain letters. For instance, I used to have playlists with names that included "faves". Since faves is not a real word, it always wanted to use "faces" so I got all kinds of unwanted results. I renamed the playlists with "Favorites" and it is better, but it still seems to have a hard time with the letter "v" for some reason (and I'm a midwesterner so not a thick accent by any means).

My final downside is my daughter is named "Alexis". Alexa gets really confused when I talk to Alexis sometimes! So being able to choose a wake word besides "Amazon" or "Alexa" will be really helpful at some point.

But overall, I'm very pleased with the Echo as a $99 kitchen helper. It definitely has some room to grow (for instance, I'd like to see a priority voice feature - let a parent override the kids choice instead of Echo getting caught in the middle of a bunch of people saying "Turn it up" and "Turn it down"). One other thing that I think would be great if they start adding this to the Fire Phone is to have Echo work as a speakerphone. Have the music pause and ask me if I want to take the call then become a bluetooth speaker phone if I say yes. All the tech is there for it already and that would be a very handy pairing! There is definitely room for it to grow as an assistant and become a lot more useful (like having multiple timers available at the same time), but for what it is at this point, I'm glad its in my kitchen!
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2015 | 12:11:50 PM
Re: Echoing the first ten days
This is good feedback for others to think about. As for me, I'm not counting on Amazon Music or Echo for serious music consumption. For that I use Sonos (in the living room or family room) with either my iTunes library or Spotify. Amazon's Prime playlists are fine considering they're free, but I wouldn't pay for them.

As for that "Alexa/Alexis," problem, you can go into the Echo App Settings menu and change the wake work to "Amazon." You could also try "Voice Training" from the "Things to Try" menu and see if that improves Alexa's understanding of your "accent." I'm from the midwest as well, so in my view, it's all those people from the East, South and West who have the accents.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2015 | 12:24:10 PM
Re: Echoing the first ten days
Such release from Amazon will help them figure out what bugs it has and what areas it can improve.  As of now, they know many potential areas.  I'm sure future releases will improve.  My question is whether there is a consumer demand for such device?  You said that you can do many of its functionalities with a smartphone ( search info, timer, check personal calendar,etc).  Would this device by acquire just for tech enthusiast or the public at large.   
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2015 | 12:39:06 PM
Re: Echoing the first ten days
Amazon and every tech supplier wants to appeal to the public at large. I'd think of Echo in the context of the connected speaker market. You can find Sonos, Bose and Jambox speakers at Best Buy and even at some Target stores. That's a sure sign that this is a mainstream category. Time will tell whether Amazon fills out its speaker line, takes Alexa in another direction or both.
BryanG987
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BryanG987,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2015 | 2:22:05 PM
Re: Echoing the first ten days
I'd like to be able to count on Amazon Music for serious consumption. The downside to Sonos / iTunes, etc is that they can access my purhased library, but not the songs that I add to my library through Prime. So far, the playlist problem outweighs the benefits of the Prime music for me as well, but if Amazon would improve that, it could swing the pendulum for me from iTunes to Amazon Music as I would probably add a lot more of the Prime music into my library.

I've done voice training a couple of times and it still seems like the "V" as a "C" is the one thing it still trips on, but that also doesn't seem to come up on the voice training. Their voice training works with a lot of very common phrases (like "Play my briefing report") and doesn't seem to really go after your custom names or anything at this point.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2015 | 2:18:21 PM
Re: Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days
I'm with most of the rest of you on this one - it seems like this product fits into a grey area, and while the value appears to be there, I'm also a little unsure of who the target audience for it is (indeed, it seems like Amazon might not be sure either). For what it's worth, this article is the first I'm hearing of Echo, but this seems like quite a solid review, Doug, and it looks like you've covered just about everything. I was wondering a bit about the smartphone and desktop integration, but happy to see that's covered here in the comments. I think Lorna makes a good point, though; maybe not with 'firmware updates' per se but it seems like a lot of the missing functionality could be added later. For example, e-mail integration seems possible if the smartphone app is just pushing text to read from your phone to the Echo.

If we consider the whole thing to be a beta of sorts, then most of the shortcoming are forgivable, but nevertheless some of these decisions seem strange from Amazon. Only being able to keep one alarm at a time? I don't see how there was a technical barrrier there, or why they wouldn't think people would have a use for that. The video showcases how the Echo is a little more family-oriented than a Siri, but as BryanG points out there are some hitches with that as well - you don't want your kids buying stuff on Amazon without your say-so. If it's just looking stuff up online, I don't see why it has to limit the sources it uses. I could go on, but we'll just have to see what Amazon plans long-term. At the $99 price, it seems like quite a deal, but the $200 general price seems to relegate it to a more niche category - I'm just not sure what that niche is.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/8/2015 | 11:14:24 AM
Re: Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days
I like this as the first step in divorcing the computer from the box and putting it into our lifestyle. Even with a phone, if I want to know somehting or do something I have to take out my tiny box and interact with it. Or i go to my big desk box. Something like this takes a lot of computer management out of the box. As it commands more things ("alexa, tell Nest to turn up the heat" or "Alexa, tell my self-driving car to pick up the kids at school) it turns into the most unobtrusive way to mange your life. 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
1/10/2015 | 9:25:07 PM
Re: Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days
There are still some improvements needed for Amazon Echo but I do agree with your point - the most important part of it is changing the way we interact with machines. This is the step forward to integrate smart machines/IT products into our inner life cycle. But will it happen that soon we are living inside matrix of machines/IT equipments?
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
1/10/2015 | 9:25:26 PM
Re: Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days
There are still some improvements needed for Amazon Echo but I do agree with your point - the most important part of it is changing the way we interact with machines. This is the step forward to integrate smart machines/IT products into our inner life cycle. But will it happen that soon we are living inside matrix of machines/IT equipments?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/12/2015 | 3:03:58 PM
Re: Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days
@Li Tan- The Echo is definitely attempt to prevent (or at least control) that matrix you are describing. I think one of the major challenges of the next 20 years is simply making machines fit into our lives in an organic, human way. Echo seems to be the best effort of this I've seen. Far better than Siri or Cortana or any I've seen because it also fits into the living space. That said, it needs a few more iterations.
spembert
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spembert,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2015 | 3:57:40 AM
Amazon Echo shipping to me
I responded to Amazon's offer on November 6. Received email from Amazon on January 6 that I could place my order ($99). Received email shortly after that I would receive echo on February 18. Received email from Amazon late February 7 that I would receive echo on February 11.


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