What is the Amazon Echo for, really?

If we can’t tell whether your product launch video is satirical, you’ve probably hit the wrong note. This is the announcement video for the Amazon Echo. I have so many questions.

First, who sat around a meeting room and convinced themselves that “yep, that’s the final cut!” The video strikes this weird, so-earnest-it’s-surreal tone that leaves the viewer deeply puzzled. Somebody has already created a richly-deserved parody:

And that’s not the only one. There’s this more niche video, which is only amusing to the lucky 1.6 million viewers of this, the ‘Kristen Schaal is a horse’ of viral videos.

What do we call this thing? Did Amazon just create a new product category–the self-aware speaker? Amazon conspicuously fails to name the category. On its product page, this is its own answer “What is Amazon Echo?”

Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It’s always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.” It’s also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound.

This description makes the speaker-ness of the thing sound like a bonus. It feels like an oversight to not brand a category like “autonomous home helper”, but better.

Likewise, why did they call it ‘Echo’ but then made the keyword to wake it up ‘Alexa’? In no time, users will forget about the term ‘Echo’ altogether and be asking each other “where did you put the Alexa?”

Putting aside questions of brand, here’s what I want to know: what is Amazon’s long term play? Why do they want to get this thing into everybody’s house? The obvious answer, I guess, is so that people can just order Amazon products by speaking their name.

That incantatory quality reminds me of that old William Gibson quote, about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. Still, I don’t quite see how this device is sufficiently more useful than the Amazon ordering machine in everybody’s pocket.

1 comment

  1. Darren

    good post — i’m also curious to know Amazon’s long term play with Echo.

    Please comment when you hear more


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