From smartphones to e-readers and tablets, technology has gotten more and more like Star Trek: The Next Generation throughout the modern thirty-something’s lifetime. The Amazon Echo, on its surface a boring looking black tube, appears to take us all one step closer to that far flung future. When the Echo’s promotional video surfaced yesterday, the tech world took a surprised breath; no one had any idea that it was coming, or what it would be.
Tech writers from Forbes to Gizmodo quickly drew comparisons to Siri and Cortana, the AI technologies that have lived on smartphones for a few years now, using voice activated AI to perform similar tasks to what Amazon claims that Echo will be able to manage.
According to Gizmodo, Amazon has positioned itself with two very important advantages as it moves forward with the Echo: first, Echo’s cost should be around $100 for members of Amazon Prime, which is several hundred dollars less than a high end cell phone, especially if you’re not buying into a contract. Echo is also starting with a very slow roll-out, as opposed to Siri and Cortana, both of which rolled out with a phone that was sold as far and wide as possible.
It may be that this is a telling moment for the tech team at Amazon. So far this year, it has released its new Voyager e-reader, which consumers seem to like, but which was a substantial increase in price from its other e-ink Kindle offerings, the Fire phone, which doesn’t seem to have taken off in any meaningful way, the Fire TV has been viewed as high quality but expensive — and the Fire TV Stick directly competes with the Chromecast and is at about the same price point. So the Amazon Echo may need to do well, which may be the reason for the quiet release, based around one 4 minute video and a web page.
And as always, not everyone is excited about having a device from a huge corporation in their home listening to them talk. Amazon was quick to point out in the video that Echo isn’t always listening, of course not — but how long does it take for Echo to turn off once you’re done talking to it? Exactly how much information does it retain? What information will Amazon gather to sell to you? Amazon has not commented on these concerns so far.
Many tech writers and users seem to say that this is absolutely a device that they want but many more people are commenting on social media that they are somewhere between bored by this device that does what their smartphone already does and concerned about the potential invasive uses of this technology in their homes.
What will happen as the product develops and releases? Stay tuned.
[Photo from Business Insider]