I’ve been using my Amazon Echo for a couple of months now and I’m still in awe. The speech recognition, without any training, is great. “Alexa, play KQED” is reacted to promptly and will actually play KQED. It is also intuitive. I did not need a manual to try “Alexa, set volume to 3.” It worked right away. Take this from someone who, according to one former boss, still has a strong German accent.
The Echo is still U.S. focused. When asked to play Deutschlandfunk (German public radio), Alexa asked back: “Do you want to play dog sled funk?” As much as I would like to unleash some dog sled funk in my living room, this is not what I what I was asking for. So I got an Amazon Fire tablet and the Alexa app and got DLF to play. Ever paranoid, I intend to eventually switch off voice recognition and/or ban the Echo to my kitchen, as I dislike the thought of having my voice print stored on U.S. American servers.
Amazon seems to be gearing up as a provider of home entertainment hardware and services quite nicely. The Echo, the Fire-line of mobile devices, the Fire stick and of course Amazon Prime are all creating a negative gradient towards getting locked-in to a closed ecosystem of services. As a frugal person, I dislike subscription services and try to stay away from them as much as possible. What was possible with telephony and data, should also be possible with entertainment. Let’s hope there’ll be more competition soon.
For my office, I really would like to see the Echo work with Skype. From searching the web, it does not appear possible to pair the Echo with a Skype app on a mobile device, because the Echo does not have the right Bluetooth protocols and hardware? I still need to dig into this, but I wonder whether Skype can be used by way of an API to Microsoft servers? Another voice print left, but also a great office tool for cheap teleconferences.
This reminds me to restart my search for a good microphone + speakers Bluetooth device. Recommendations are welcome!