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Input Devices Toys Entertainment

Amazon's Echo: a $200, Multi-Function, Audio-Centric Device 129

An anonymous reader writes 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. I've put in a request for one; hopefully we'll get a hands-on look at the Echo soon. It looks useful and interesting for random searches, and for controlling devices, but one small speaker (interesting driver arrangement notwithstanding) doesn't bode well for "fill[ing] any room with immersive sound," as Amazon's promo materials claim.
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Amazon's Echo: a $200, Multi-Function, Audio-Centric Device

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now we got two giants churning out failure after failure

  • by laird ( 2705 ) <lairdp&gmail,com> on Thursday November 06, 2014 @07:05PM (#48330265) Journal

    It looks a lot like Ivee (http://www.helloivee.com) which was Kickstarted a while back. Ivee costs much less, and integrates with home automation gear (Hue, Nest, etc.), which is useful. It doesn't stream internet audio, though. So it'll be interesting to see how they compete.

  • Nice (Score:2, Funny)

    Echo as in, Echo the Fires miserable failure? Because if that's what you're trying to do... good job!

    Seriously, it seems that recently Amazon must have fired the guy with all the common sense.

  • Need Majel's voice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Thursday November 06, 2014 @07:09PM (#48330285)

    This would be perfect if it only had a faithful synthesis of Majel Barrett's voice.

    • This would be perfect if it only had a faithful synthesis of Majel Barrett's voice.

      She's not very available for new voice work anymore...

      • There has been significant work on synthesizing real people's voices without their cooperation. There is a large enough body of her recorded voice to work from.

      • Hello 93 Escort Wagon. You.. really know... how to... turn. me. on.

      • They should have had her record every english phoneme... then they could just synthesize her. It's not a proper talking computer unless it has her voice.

        Or failing that, just get Marina Sirtis.

    • Can't she just read your mind anyway

  • by thammoud ( 193905 ) on Thursday November 06, 2014 @07:14PM (#48330341)

    Masters of only one (Let Kindle Slide). Online Shopping. I simply do not understand all of these devices that Amazon is trying to pimp. Phones? Tablets? I love shopping at Amazon but their brain dead hardware makes zero sense.

    • Masters of only one (Let Kindle Slide). Online Shopping. I simply do not understand all of these devices that Amazon is trying to pimp. Phones? Tablets? I love shopping at Amazon but their brain dead hardware makes zero sense.

      I actually like the Fire TV--it supports everything I need (I like Apple, but I'm not invested in iTunes movie purchases and rentals, and Amazon Prime is quite nice for both movies and TV), and it can side-load Android apps, which isn't always useful but is at least a little fun. The Fire TV Stick, recently released and much cheaper, might also be nice, but I haven't used it. I actually returned my Roku for this. As you possibly hint, the Kindle is also a nice device, though I mean the e-ink variety rather

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I would have purchased a Fire-TV device since all our viewing is on Amazon Prime Instant Video. I wanted a device with head phones so that the TV sound would not wake my spouse. The Fire-TV does have a head phone jack. The new Roku device does and I purchased that one instead.

        If the Echo can used as a Bluetooth speaker with an iPad, it would be a good deal since name brand Bluetooth speakers are generally more than $100.

      • While I watch plenty of content from Amazon Prime, Netflix and HBOgo, the lack of an officially supported USB port to play media single handedly caused me to buy a Roku 3, instead of a Fire TV.
      • I mainly use my AppleTV for Netflix on my non-smart tv as well as streaming Hulu from my iPhone to it via PlayOn. I don't buy any movies via iTunes either.

    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      Masters of only one (Let Kindle Slide). Online Shopping. I simply do not understand all of these devices that Amazon is trying to pimp.

      I think you do. You just don't realize that these are tools for online shopping. Buy a Kindle, get all of your ebooks from Amazon because it doesn't support Epub, which is what all of the other online bookstores are using. Buy a Fire or a Kindle HD, get your apps and your movies and your music from Amazon because even though it's Android, it doesn't come with Google Play. Amazon sells a lot of real-world things, but if people are buying digital things now then Amazon wants to make sure it sells a lot of tho

      • Buy a Kindle, get all of your ebooks from Amazon because it doesn't support Epub, which is what all of the other online bookstores are using.

        Or, you could always do this [epub2mobi.com].

        • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
          Sure you could... if you like having to take extra steps every time you get a new book before you can read it. Maybe you don't care; technical issues like this are easy for us nerds, but most people just want things to work without hassle.
  • by uCallHimDrJ0NES ( 2546640 ) on Thursday November 06, 2014 @07:23PM (#48330401)

    You just shout "SLICE! CHOP! SLICE!" at it and it makes fruit slicing noises and tells you afterwards how well you did. When you're not using it, it quietly keeps a compressed log of human presence information and keyword flags that get sent to Amazon's supercustomers. Just like the Kinect, but no Xbox required. Awesome innovation.

  • Amazon Prime costs $99 a year, and this device is $100 off if you have that...

    • Well, buying the device for $200 gets you the device. Getting a Prime membership gets you discounted shipping, free ebooks, streaming video, and $100 off. So it's not quite as simple as you put it.
  • If you go to amazon.com, you'll see a ginormous advert taking a big chunk out of the very top of the page.

    • This is the first I ever heard about it. Do you remember the press releases and viral campaign leading up to this release? No? Then it's been pretty quiet, hasn't it?
      • Quiet meaning there wasn't an ad campaign before the ad campaign started, or quiet in that there were no rumors about it?
    • Nowadays quietly just means nobody "accidentally" lost one in a bar.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gee - 30-some comments and not one about privacy concerns. An always-on mic in my house? I think not!

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Thursday November 06, 2014 @08:00PM (#48330631) Homepage Journal

    Connected to the cloud so it's always getting smarter

    Suppose, you are disciplining your child, or singing in the shower, or having a tender moment with your spouse... The device listens — and is connected to the cloud "getting smarter".

    Will it start offering suggestions? Will it start reminding us to wash hands — if it hears flushing, but not running water in the sink? Will it call police upon detecting "domestic violence" — and wouldn't Amazon some day be sued for not doing so?

    The Big Brother we were warned about nearly 100 years ago, does not necessarily need to be entirely for monitoring — the watching interface could also deliver weather reports and other useful information.

    • by mianne ( 965568 )
      The fact that the "Wake-up" command is Alexa [alexa.com] which happens to be the name of one of the original web data mining firms seems like an unfortunate confluence. We may have crossed the privacy Rubicon with the mass acceptance of smartphones, but placing a cloud-connected device inside our homes to monitor all conversations is much too creepy for me.
    • by sootman ( 158191 )

      > Suppose, you are... having a tender moment with your spouse... The device
      > listens... Will it start offering suggestions?

      "Hey! Moron! She said 'faster' like ten times already!"

    • by rthille ( 8526 )

      > Will it start reminding us to wash hands — if it hears flushing, but not running water in the sink?
      That would be awesome! It'd save me yelling it at my GF's two boys (9 & 12)...

  • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Thursday November 06, 2014 @08:02PM (#48330651) Homepage Journal

    If you actually scroll down the page a http://www.amazon.com/oc/echo [amazon.com] you'll see it actually has two speakers, a "woofer" and a tweeter.

    More interesting is the array of 7 mics. Should be possible to get some good positional audio capture and noise reduction that way.

    I picked up an el-cheapo bluetooth speaker/mic a while ago, and it works decently enough. I can see people paying 10x more for a "premium" version of something like http://www.amazon.com/Wireless... [amazon.com] I suppose... "Real" speakerphones for conference rooms with good NC and AEC are pretty expensive.

    • The multiple microphone array is to allow the device to perform beam forming, thereby performing noise suppression as well as analyzing the location of the sound relative to the device.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'd like to say WTF? Over.

  • No thanks. I'm not willing trade even more privacy by paying Amazon $200 to listen in to everything I do just in case I might want it to display something on the screen for me.

    • Agreed. If it did not spy, it might be a neat gadget, but you just can't be sure, especially as it is networked connected and apparently always updating itself. I worked on the IBM Personal Speech Assistant, a small handheld device that did speech recognition for command-and-control, in the late 1990s, but it had a push-to-talk button. Of course, we are so surrounded these days with devices with microphones and cameras which auto-update (cell phones, laptops, tablets) that it is becoming harder to know what

  • All indications on this device is it is going to be tightly wound into Amazon's services. Unless it has an open API as well, it's going to be dead in the water, because me telling amazon to "Remind me to get milk tomorrow" is not very useful when it has no integration to my Google or Apple calendar.

    The second barrier is, all this thing can do can already be done by Google Now. So you are competing with a device people already have in their pocket.

    Anyway it will be interesting to see if it works out for Amaz

  • So if I'm at home AND I'm in the same room with it AND I don't have my phone in my pocket AND it's otherwise quiet in the room, I can totally ask it stuff. SIGN ME UP!

    This will be so great for all those times that I'm standing alone in my living room with my hands full and I suddenly need to know "what's 28 degrees fahrenheit in celsius?"

    Seriously, Amazon, just throw this useless piece of shit into the bargain bin with the Microsoft Kin and the Google Nexus Q and the Facebook Phone and oh yeah the Amazon Fi [parislemon.com]

  • Did Amazon think that 3com's Audrey aka the web appliance did fail hard enough?

    and because pressing a button on your phone that's in your pocket will be more work than you're willing to put in to remember a task.

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday November 06, 2014 @08:56PM (#48330959)

    It could be that losing screen is as essential for voice interface as losing keyboard and stylus was for multitouch tablets. Not in a technical sense, but to get both users and developers to embrace new way of interacting and discover what works. I see this working very well with kids, especially if wrapped in a cute toy and an age-appropriate content selection. If nothing else, this device will have terrific accessibility for blind users.

    If only NSA didn't spoil the fun by displaying complete disregard for law and common sense! Now people will never trust the hotword detection and assume it can be overridden from remote to listen all the time.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I was able to work with aural interfaces in college back in the mid 90's. The main problem is context. The computer has to maintain context of the conversation in much the same way humans do. Otherwise you just end up with a variation of "phone menu hell".

      It's interesting that very little advancement has been made in actually conversing with your computer. Forget speech recognition, it would be incredible if I could type a conversational style paragraph of instructions and the computer would understand

      • Forget speech recognition, it would be incredible if I could type a conversational style paragraph of instructions and the computer would understand enough to carry them out.

        something like:

        computer, do the following:
        start xfce4-terminal, and connect to nethack.alt.org
        start claws-mail, and check mail
        Open Firefox to Slashdot;


        #!/bin/sh
        exec xfce4-terminal -e 'telnet -8 nethack.alt.org'&
        exec claws-mail --receive-all&
        exec firefox --new-tab http://slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org]

        Admittedly it's not natural language.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Given that the average person will never care about the privacy issues, this technology is coming and you and I (or at least, our children) have no real choice to avoid it short of moving to the woods and becoming hermits.

      So the only real way to tackle it is to ensure it can't be abused by setting up extremely strict privacy laws, and burning at the stake any politician who breathes otherwise.

    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
      Even if the NSA was out of the equation, there's always some #@$hole out there who'll hack your stuff anyway... whether for gain (blackmail) or fun... you can't win.
      • by iamacat ( 583406 )

        Then his #@$hole will suffer in PMITA federal penitentiary and I can get lifelock and refunds for any charges. It's when law enforcement itself is corrupt all the way to the highest levels in the country that there is a big problem.

    • by Utens ( 3906331 )
      In this days they develop new devices child or proof or for child, nothing in the middle of the two.
  • They really should have called this Siri on a Stick. Maybe SOS for short. Amazon SOS sounds better than Echo. What echo?
    • by mi ( 197448 )

      Siri on a Stick

      You are onto something here. Can't say, I got a bona-fide erection imagining Siri in such a situation, but there is that refreshing feeling of solidity, yes...

  • Its about 5 weeks too late for Amazon - I have had to reduce my spending there since they now charge sales tax.

  • I'm Wiki Bear!
  • All it needs to say is "Yes Dear" and give compliments, save me a lifetime of grief. Of course, it'll also need to learn how to apologise when it's right... That might be a bit trickier.
  • more like a wireless microphone and the cloud is listening in.
  • some drunken folks are arguing about the speed of light in vacume vs water.
    bartender gets weary of the pedantic noise and nods the folks over to Echo and say "Oh wise one... what is the speed of light in vacume vs water?"
    the crowd goes silent as it speaks. "answer is... 42!"
  • Alexa [youtube.com], what's the best way to be tax-efficient?

    Alexa, what were Mummy and Daddy whispering about on Christmas Eve?

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