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Amazon Echo Show (amazon.com)
390 points by metaedge 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 443 comments

People are missing this:

"With the Alexa App, conversations and contacts go where you go. When you’re away from home, use the app to make a quick call or send a message to your family’s Echo. Alexa calling and messaging is free—to get started download the Alexa App."

Alexa is now in the messaging and communication game.


Are we ever going to see unity between these services, or are we doomed to have little walled-off fiefdoms forever?

A phone number works anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world, with anyone who has a phone. All e-mail providers work with each other. I don't care who you're with, and I wouldn't even have to know except it's usually part of the address. SMS works no matter which provider we both have.

It feels like we're taking huge steps backwards. Instead of sending a message to a phone number or e-mail address, I'll use iMessage or Google Hangouts or Skype or Slack or.... Video call? We can do FaceTime or Hangouts or Skype or....

Will these things start interoperating with each other eventually, or are we just doomed forever?

FWIW, email only sorta interoperates...try running your own mail server and unless you get all the elements of server reputation exactly right, your email will probably not get delivered to people using the large email providers. Thanks to spammers, we've allowed our open, interoperable standard to be much more closed.

And SMS is also frustratingly non-universal. After years of having cell service with one of the large providers, I switched to Fi last year since I was going to be out of the country a lot. The biggest annoyance has been most short code SMS not working. Each SMS shortcode is only supported on a provider-by-provider basis.

I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just pointing out that even your examples of open, interoperable protocols are instances where we've traded some of that open interoperability for convenience.

I have my own mail server and am running it from my home server for 15 years now, I did not notice having issues with delivery to large providers and I did not set up SPF, DKIM or whatever currently you supposed to use (I do have TLS enabled though).

I do have some mailing lists running from it, so it's possible it helped me that their users are making sure mails from it doesn't end up in junk folder.

Anyway, I would encourage anyone to run their own mail server, to prevent large provider doing what you're mentioning. Google already did this with XMPP. They made GTalk interconnected with rest of XMPP server, but as soon as they got a large base they disconnected from the rest and made their own proprietary network.

Same experience here. No special setup, no SPF or DKIM, and yet no particular challenge in sending e-mail. I feel the challenges of operating a mail server are often exaggerated. But then, I don't tend to send spam.

Wow, I am surprised. I recently had to migrate my mailserver from my datacenter to the cloud. I lost the original IP address as a result. The new IP address got flagged immediately on gmail and everywhere else. I setup SPF and DKIM, that seems to fix the issues with the big guys. However on comcast and others I still got throttled for quite a bit. i had to request csi.cloudmark.com to unblock the ip..

I wonder if you happened to inherit an IP address from someone who was up to something less than savory.

Oftentimes, poorly-managed VMs / VPSes get infected with scripts / botnet software and start blasting out spam. It takes a long time for IP reputation to recover, esp. under the same owner info on the netblock.

Regarding inbox deliverability from dynamic IPs (like you'd have with a residential connection), it might work sometimes for short messages with no attachments to people you've corresponded with before, but I wouldn't expect general deliverability to be very good. You have the same problem with botnet infections / malware-based spam here as well; home PCs are much more likely to get infected with that kind of stuff (though WordPress exploits are VERY common on servers), so many people running mail servers will just straight up block dynamic IPs from big ISPs and assume that nothing of value was lost. Personally, for low-volume mail such as what a home server might send regarding maintenance or alerts, I'd recommend using a service like mailgun and hooking up to that with SMTP. It's a lot easier than running your own mail server, you won't have to deal with inbound spam if you're only sending, it works well with minimal setup, they guide you through each step, etc etc.

That would be my guess.

I run an email server with ten domains on it. Hotmail blocked me once, but I had no problem getting that lifted. No other issues for over five years now.

I have more of a problem with mail going the other way. I use a number of online spam traps to avoid spam, and my gf's Yahoo account often gets bounced by them.

Specific Yahoo servers regularly get flagged for spam, and if you're using a Yahoo account your mail will be filtered by many, many servers if it's sent from one of those IPs.

It was a long time ago so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but if I remember correctly it was fairly straightforward. It was right before and as SPF really became worth doing. The thing that would get a lot of my customers running their own mail was the PTR not matching the name presented by the mail server and/or that name not being listed in the MX records for the domain it was relaying mail for. I did have to deal with the occasional IP that had been blacklisted on RBLs and that could be a pain the ass and typically the first order of business was actually blocking outbound SMTP except from their mail server.

Those were the days that I don't miss.

"And SMS is also frustratingly non-universal. After years of having cell service with one of the large providers" .. "Each SMS shortcode is only supported on a provider-by-provider basis."

Yes, each provider does support their own short codes, but this is not a great example of SMS being "non-universal"

A short code is just "dialling sugar" for {country_code} + {network_code} + {short_code}.

Think about it this way: It would be kind of like trying to access the following url: http://news.ycombinator

Do you need it on .com? .co.za? .io?

So in other words, if you are roaming and you want to use a short code. Just prefix with {country_code} + {network_code}.

The routing should work correctly, the switch (msc) routing tables will have the country code + network code, and route the message correctly to your network. If your network has been configured correctly, it will be able to respond.

There is nothing inherently in SMS that prevents it working. Though carriers can choose to block short codes to other networks (usually to avoid fraud). Your carrier would then need to include request the roaming partner white list a set of allowed short codes.

This isn't really correct. Short codes are hardcoded routing rules specific to each operator, not just syntactic sugar. They don't map to regular phone numbers (MSISDN) and are generally not available from other networks or overseas, unless the service provider (not the operator) makes an effort to replicate the code across operators and provide it internationally. Some countries have regulatory coordination to prevent the same number from routing to different services across different operators, but that's about it.

Source: used to work with SMS gateways for a living.

That said, short codes are rapidly becoming obsolete since data has become ubiquitous and everything is online now. The only one I ever use is voicemail.

> short codes are rapidly becoming obsolete

I wish. With the prevalence of using SMS for 2FA, short codes are very much in use. When you've got a provider that doesn't work with most short codes, you run into a frighteningly large number of difficult situations. Some providers will give you a "I didn't receive the text, call me" option. Some (grr...Venmo) don't. But it's one of those features you don't realize how often it's used until it doesn't work for you.

Yes they are hard coded on the home operator/carrier. Though this does not mean it will not route.

What country are you in?

The way I have seen them configured is they work from off-net if you prefix with correct codes.

Remember the foreign switch,smsc or ussd gateway is going to route the message if it has the correct prefix. The Routing (b number analysis) is looking up a prefix, to send it off.

It is up to your home operator to correctly handle this.

Source: 10+ years working with mobile operators

I run my own email, on a vps no less, and the only blocklist that has given me trouble is Symantec's (and a bit of Googling at the time showed it had a high false-positive rate).

Google, Hotmail, etc, all work just fine. Just make sure to set up DMARC (DKIM+SPF) and TLS by default.

That's a shame since I wrote the RFC/BCP on DNS blocklists while at Symantec.

Haha, well this is awkward..

It was a while ago, if I recall correctly the block seemed to be ip based (it reported my ip not domain-name). I host with vpsdime, while it is a vps and thus to be expected I don't seem to be on any other lists.

DMARC, PTR, no open-relay, encryption, etc., all set up on my end. The email I was trying to reach was in fact an (important to me) gov't adress. Ended up using my old gmail for that instead.

Short codes are managed per country, but within the US just about every true mobile operator should have the ability to work with the same US short code. If they don't support a given code, it is because they choose not to. Part of the approval process for getting a short code is having all of the major wireless carriers sign off on your application.

If Google Fi is using SMS-enabled wireline numbers as opposed to mobile numbers then there could be additional complications.

Good points, both! I think it's telling that the e-mail one is a relatively recent development. Is that also the case for SMS? I'm not too familiar with the history of short codes, but I have the impression that they're newer too.

I didn't even know what shortcodes were until this moment. I think this detracts from the main point, though. Of course automated commercial services will have their idiosyncrasies, but if you want to communicate with people, phone calls and SMS seem to work reliably, worldwide, in a universal way.

That's only true if you are in certain IP spaces that get lumped in with residential users or are public spaces that are heavily used like AWS.

I've run on-Prem email for years in different capacities. It isn't nearly as difficult as its often portrayed.

Postfix is not fun to set up and even less fun to debug if there are config issues.

But there are useful sample config files online, and once it's running it just works.

That's nothing - you should try running your own cell tower. Or just hooking up your own telephone exchange.

Email interoperability is at LEAST as good as phone interoperability, which was the GP's point, I think. But all of these things are more walled gardens than you might think.

We ran our own mail server, didn't find it very difficult. If you run it off of IP blocks that have been abused in the past, might be harder.

And what you are describing are isolated instances that almost no one experiences with email or sms.

I think the free nature of these services is what leads to this fragmentation.

Slack is an outlier because you don't actually need to communicate with everyone in the world on Slack.

But for others, it would be completely unreasonable to ask your acquaintances to pay to install Skype to talk to you. And you probably wouldn't pay for Skype if it didn't interop with whatever other people were paying for.

In a world where switching costs for consumers are so low, interop becomes less important because you can ask your contacts to install an app if it's useful enough.

No. I won't install a privacy invasive app (which they all are) just because you have it, never. SMS or nothing if we don't already use something else we'd rather use.

I'm sure you realise you're in the minority here.

None of these messaging apps care if you install their product or not because there are so few people who share your views.

Mobile operators can scan your SMS messages just as Google can scan Gmail (etc.)...

That is true but quite beside the point. If that was my only worry I'd have much less friction to install random spyw-ehm messaging apps.

(I believe that operators generally have much tighter regulations and laws governing what they could actually do with that, but regardless - besides the point)

how is it besides the point? It feels like your whole point...

There are other privacy concerns with messaging apps: e.g. harvesting of contacts, access to media and photos and camera on your device etc. Perhaps he/she means those.

Exactly, random example, whatsapp requires over 30 permissions on android. A fraction of those are reasonable.

Sounds likely. I'd say that there's still a decent cost in terms of setting up and maintaining all these different accounts, but I'm sure many users don't see it that way, or don't care.

> you can ask your contacts to install an app if it's useful enough.

Sure, for personal devices, but with business devices, installing an app can be a multi-month approval process.

Agreed, and that's why I think iMessage and (BBM when people were using Blackberry's) are the best version of this. Two people with Apple devices can seamlessly take advantage of the Apple ecosystem or switch to SMS when communicating with a person who doesn't have an Apple device.

I think you mean hangouts (as it was), which extended beyond the apple paywall onto PC desktops, mac desktops, linux desktops, chromebooks, android, and IOS. Too bad google can't get out of their own way and has started deprecating it with no replacement in site.

That is supposed to be what WebRTC is for. But major companies with their own motives are running the the major video chat solutions.

XMPP too. It can do video calling: https://xmpp.org/about/technology-overview.html

Sad that Google + Facebook pulled out of federation a long time ago. We could have had bring-your-own-client cross-network all of this stuff. We still can, but realistically we won't.

WebRTC defines how the browser supports audio/video/chat endpoints. A practical video calling system needs servers to manage firewall traversal, a directory of users, and ways to admin the system.

Who's going to provide that at no cost?

This isn't that complicated or sad. You can still call anyone in the world and still text anyone in the world. Its that the remaining spaces to compete in are feature based, and features don't move forward quickly on open standards.

There are plenty of working open standards to do the basics, its if you want to do anything beyond the basics that you end up in a walled garden.

Video calling and instant messaging have both been around for ages at this point, and remain stubbornly walled off. Both should qualify as "basics" by now.

Sure, you can still SMS worldwide, as long as they have a cell phone. But non-phone devices are becoming very common. What if you want to send or receive messages on your tablet or computer. (This works OK in the Apple world, but only because they hack it by routing SMS through your phone.)

Video calls don't even have that.

E-mail, for example, was different. I started using online services when you had AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, etc. all in their own little worlds. That didn't last very long before they all bridged their internal e-mail systems to the internet and everyone could talk to each other.

> This works OK in the Apple world, but only because they hack it by routing SMS through your phone.

Actually, not necessarily. At least with my provider (AT&T), I can set up my Mac as a validated device for WiFi calling, so I can do SMS and actual phone calls without using the iPhone as a relay.

Yes, for those looking for more details, AT&T calls it NumberSync: https://www.att.com/shop/wireless/features/numbersync.html

T-Mobile supports this as well.

Nifty! I must not be keeping up with the latest developments. Apparently this is possible as of about a year and a half ago.

Video Calling is a HARD problem that still has not been solved even remotely to the broader markets satisfaction. Everything from latency/compression techniques to hardware is in flux. It is a long ways away from a standard that can be easily and widely adopted and work in all scenarios.

When IP video calling started being worked on in the 90s it was via an open standards process, specifically h.323. Back then the web was driven more by engineers, before money men truly tookover.

It is a miracle that the web itself has survived as one of the few open interoperable protocols. Though I think this golden period will soon end, strangled by the death of net neutrality on one side and proprietary walled gardens on the other.

Ultimately, a commons is not compatible with unrestricted capitalism.

Its easy to blame money (boogey) men when you don't understand the finite problems that have held back this space.

They are also very easy to blame when you do. Productization is ruining tech.

This. It's easy to forget that in the beginning, stuff like AOL and CompuServe offered their version of the internet, not "the internet". We've now paved the way for Comcast, Time Warner, ATT, and Verizon to do the same. Look at what the wireless ISPs already do to phones on their network today with locking, proprietary apps (many of which take advantage of zero rating), "free" phones, etc.

Sadly but somewhat hilariously, the thing which might prevent them a bit from offering exclusive-to-their-network content is the fact that in the US, you often don't have a choice of which ISP to go with, so if I really wanted some content which was exclusive to ATT's network, I simply can't switch off of Comcast (apartment building with no other option, past 3 apartment buildings were the same) since they've so successfully monopolized markets.

Edit: on the beginning: http://www.internethistorypodcast.com/2014/04/chapter-3-part...

Facetime works very well, my family uses it from 4 different continents around the world, from cities to villages, varying from toddlers to nonagenarians who didn't even go to school or know English. I don't know why something cross platform can't work as well as Facetime does.

I had hope for Hangouts, but Google dropped the ball big time in terms of user complexity and quality of product as they are wont to do.

Someone had me use Hangouts for a press livestreaming thing a couple of weeks back. I was actually surprised at how the UI had improved since I last used it.

I agree that video conferencing is rather fragmented but I'm honestly not sure how much that has slowed adoption. People just don't want to use video in a lot of cases. Essentially all my internal calls are on a videoconferencing system and I doubt I turn on the webcam 25% of the time. (We do use screen sharing a fair bit though.)

Google Duo is a vast improvement over Hangouts for quality and resilience. It has been almost as good as Facetime for me. Duo is also available on iOS and Android.

It is conspicuously absent on any other platform; even Android tablets can't use Duo, let alone a Linux, Windows, or macOS machine. So it's a hell of a walled garden.

It's hard, but I disagree that it hasn't been solved. As long as your device has a built-in camera and microphone, they pretty much Just Work these days.

Sure, bringing everybody together would be tough. You'd need a lot of discussion and probably glue/bridging code between different services. But it could be done! None of the big services are even trying to integrate with each other.

Matrix is capable of many advanced features, and can be used as the framework for others, while being an open standard.

It's all still quite new, and the drive to compete and gain market share keeps them separate, as it does in all industries. There will be consolidation in time. For now, it's a mixed blessing, but mostly a blessing.

Practical video calling has been around for a decade, and instant messaging for two or three decades. How long is it supposed to take?

> For now, it's a mixed blessing, but mostly a blessing.

In what way? You can accomplish all these things for free with your existing phone, Google Assistant, IFTTT, and very little effort. If you do it this way, your virtual assistant won't be as dumb as rocks either.

Sorry, but Alexa is still riding on the short bus.

Alexa is positioned differently. There are typically configurable DIY solutions to most broad appeal consumer products. Many just want something that works out of the box, with minimal configuration or learning required.

What's new? Messaging?

More optimistically, it could be a step toward solving the problem if it adopted a Roku-like model where all those apps are installed and logged in at all times and you can pick one from a standardized menu. On Roku you can go to Netflix, Hulu, and single-channel apps like A&E.

Bonus points if there is a standard way to 'get a call' or 'search for a contact' that cuts across the video conf apps.

iOS 10 supports this with CallKit. The "Call" action in the Phone UI can call through Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc. and receiving a call looks like the native phone UI.

Email and phone spam also works everywhere. It's time someone did something about it with a whole new system. Calls that are not pre-whitelisted should be blocked and logged. Then at the end of the day, you should get an email summarizing all the blocked calls so you can whitelist the ones you want.

https://www.truecaller.com/ does this to a certain extent. Users flag phone numbers / caller IDs as spam, giving you the discretion to block, whitelist, or subscribe to lists to autoblock common spam callers similar to adblock plug-ins.

> Will these things start interoperating with each other eventually [...] ?

They used to. We have open or defacto standards for texts, chat, voip, and video calls. We had/have free and paid clients available. They withered on the vine, without support from the big players.

This is my biggest beef, thanks for pointing it out. All of this is great, but it adds to separation of market. In an idea l world, all of the 'big players' would sit together, and come up with a way to unify their services.

What, jabber?


I'm working for a startup that is trying to solve that problem :D

This problem was solved with XMPP/Jabber. Facebook and Google used to use it for their chat clients. You used to be able to use Google Talk to talk with other servers, but after a while they removed that, and then killed Google Talk. Facebook messenger used to have an XMPP-compatible API, but could never talk to other servers.

I don't know why more messaging services use XMPP to bootstrap their userbase. It would allow you to switch to a new service, while you could still talk to your friends that haven't moved yet.

No, no it bloody well wasn't. XMPP is a horrible protocol with any number of incompatibilities depending on which set of XEPs your particular implementation supports and which set your clients speak.

There's a reason it never took off, and it has nothing to do with corporate mendacity.


There are plenty of horrible, incompatible protocols that are widely adopted by industry (FTP, CalDAV, IMAP, DLNA...). Where there's a will there's a way.

This feels forced and sort of flies in the face of how people have demonstrated that they prefer to communicate over the past 20 years or so. I already have a phone that I can pull out and send a text or make a call with to anybody, without regard to whether they have an Amazon device. My 79 year old mother, who is the last remaining person to not give into a smart phone, is most certainly never going to learn how to use an Echo. So I'm having a hard time understanding whom this would be targeted at.

I think there are plenty of aging folks that are open to being set up with whatever their family sets them up with to keep in contact. Especially if it increases contact with the distributed family. My siblings and I went in on an iPad for my grandmother a few years ago when she was over 80 and she used it a ton and regularly got FaceTime video calls from her 5 grandkids and 11 great grandkids (who are across the United States) before her death a few months ago.

I think amazon is trying to extend markets, so what happened during the past 20 years can't be their guide.

Otherwise I'd see a use of this device for small kids (parents would protect them from generic chat apps, and they're not good at typing yet) and people who put their phone in random places in the house and only check when they actively want to do something on it.

Otherwise I'd see a use of this device for small kids (parents would protect them from generic chat apps, and they're not good at typing yet) and people who put their phone in random places in the house and only check when they actively want to do something on it.

This could pretty much describe the iPad as well. To me, Amazon is betting way too heavily on voice as the optimal way to interact with hardware. I know that it's cool because it hasn't ever been done well before, but in practice the utility just isn't there for the vast majority of use cases. When you think of all the different visual ways that a tablet enables a person to interact with the machine, and then compare that to an entirely voice-operated machine, it feels like taking a step backwards.

> Amazon is betting way too heavily on voice as the optimal way to interact with hardware. I know that it's cool because it hasn't ever been done well before, but in practice the utility just isn't there for the vast majority of use cases.

Beyond the issues with dialects and accents - those will eventually be solved with better learning/adaptation algorithms - I've always felt voice interfaces very... limited. Perhaps it will enable more 'social' experiences, but 3-5 people can be in a room and use their devices (laptop/tablet/etc) more or less as they do now. If/when devices with 'voice interactions' are the norm... how will I get any privacy from those around me? And simultaneous voices will present some ongoing problems (until, maybe, personal voice recognition, vs just 'voice', is achieved?)

We work with 90 year olds and Alexa, they have no problem at all.

Well they are definitely pushing into that space with Amazon Chime, so it only makes sense.

This is also absolutely going to kill Nucleus[1] which was the first device released with Alexa Voice Service integrated and was heavily hyped by Amazon at the time.

[1]: https://nucleuslife.com/

Yes, poor Nucleus. The Echo line of devices makes it even more versatile. You can call a cheap Echo Dot in the kids' bedroom from your expensive Echo Show in the kitchen. With Amazon's brand and market power, I am not sure how they're going survive.

We reached an interesting point in time where the internet incumbents (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) can copy and extend any interesting idea quickly. I remember those days when Microsoft and Intel were ruling the world.

Damn that thing's almost $400! You're right, they'll be dead.

In fairness, that's the cost for two -- they're $249 individually, so a bit cheaper than a Show. But that's not entirely obvious from the page.

Indeed. I had just about hit the Buy button on a pair of Nucleus devices when I heard the Echo Show was coming. Now I don't need them.

Nucleus as opposed to Pied Piper?

I wonder what the Amazon strategy with this is, given they invested through the Alexa fund.

Probably just hedging their bets. But they definitely want their own horse to win the race.

jwz: 'Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.'

But... why?

Presumably everyone who would even consider buying this already has a computer at home, which does that better anyway.

This is the new "home phone".

What's the point of a home phone when everybody in the home already has a personal phone? We don't call houses. We call people.

You are forgetting an important demographic of many households who do not yet have personal phones but are perfectly capable of communicating verbally: small children.

Amazon is betting on these children growing up with an Echo in the home which can be a nice way to catch up with your kids' activities while still at work or on your way home.

Child: "Alexa, record a message for mom."

Alexa: "Recording message."

Child: "Mummy, don't be late. But you promised to undo my hair when you return from work. My head hurts."

Also, old people and seniors who have trouble using small cellphones.

Ever tried using FaceTime or Skype with poor vision/ dexterity?

So the solution is a device that has a screen on it that is barely bigger then my phone's?

When I talk to my mother or father, we both put each other on speakerphone. On my end, my wife and I can both talk at the sime time... on their end, they can also have multiple people talking at the same time. This is a 2-endpoint call with 2+n users.

All Echos have better mics and better sound than my cellphone for this use.

I quite often call a house, or wish I could. We eat dinner with my mom most nights, and my grandma if she cares to come. "Whoever's there: dinner's ready!" is a message we have to send to their house, every day, and all we have to do it with is their two cell phones. I'm counting the days until we can call their Echo Dot instead.

There is a large space between sitting at my computer and talking to my wife in the grocery store vs. sitting on the couch and talking to my wife in the grocery store.

Tangential point, but Amazon wants to eliminate your spouse even going to the grocery store.

For a brief, ominous micro-second, I wondered why Amazon would want to kill my spouse.

Tangential point, but Amazon wants to eliminate even your spouse.

Edit: I see I wasn't the only one whose brain short-circuited for a second.

Is it not a space filled by your cellphone?

For me, it is certainly filled by my cellphone. But I can see the method to their madness.

An Amazon Echo isn't a needed device. It just makes certain actions easier (e.g. playing music, checking the weather, listening to the news, etc), all of which can be satisfied with a cellphone and computer too. But the key is, it makes these actions EASIER.

For someone who's already indoctrinated to an Amazon Echo device, I can see the barrier for purchase being lower than someone who doesn't have one. For such a customer, the appeal again is that it makes even more actions EASIER.

Being able to see your baby monitor, make a phone call, check the news, see who's at your front door (integration with doorbell video services coming up, I'll bet!), etc, are all achievable by other means. But this family of devices makes them all EASIER.

I think that's the key here. And granted, these devices aren't going to appeal to everyone. But for those that already have the gateway drug/device that is an Amazon Echo, I can see them investing further into this ecosystem of devices.

My use case is walking around the house, remembering we need something at the store, telling Alexa about it, and then looking at the Alexa app when I get to the store. I don't walk around the house with my phone in my hand.

Yes, with a teeny bit of extra convenience. These things are a cellphone on the bookshelf that you don't have to hold or recharge. Also, bigger screen and better speaker.

HN isn't really a kid friendly community, but this would work pretty well for kids age maybe 3 to 10 who just want to listen to music, maybe video call grandma.

Sort of a post-iPad reaction to the failure of tablets.

This looks like an iPad / tablet charging stand with speakers and better mic -- which there are plenty of in the market. You can get one of these for $20 (or $99 if Apple makes it!). Amazon is just hoping that the success of Echo will push this forward. This will be another Fire incident for Amazon.

>This will be another Fire incident for Amazon.

Disagree. This is entering a far less saturated somewhat new market. A very focused communication/consumption device where the tablet is trying to be a laptop.

hands free...one click answer on other end.

for that they have facetime or duo? I mean if 2 users using this are out, why use amazon app to make calls?

How, in 2017, has Amazon not learned that messaging that doesn't extend to the PC is useless. Could you enter a more crowded market without any differentiation to speak of?

Echo is the new PC (for its target audience/use case).

Based on my admittedly small sample size: that couldn't be further from the truth. Every person I know who has an echo is a techie or their significant other is a techie. Those people all expect their communication platform of choice to span all of their devices.

My mom doesn't have an echo, doesn't know what an echo is, and probably wouldn't ever spend the money on one even if she did. She's about the only person in my life that would EVER consider an Echo to be "the new PC". And quite frankly I can't imagine her giving up her laptop for one of these in a million years.

A few thoughts:

- This is way less creepy-looking than the Amazon Look (https://www.amazon.com/Echo-Hands-Free-Camera-Style-Assistan...), but it is actually very similar.

- It is great to add a screen to the Echo. Just more feedback on interacting with it, and possibility to watch YouTube, Netflix, etc. casually.

- It doesn't have the same cool minimalism as the Echo. The Echo sits on my counter and looks nice when not in use. I think this one looks much clunkier.

- I definitely want to try one.

> This is way less creepy-looking than the Amazon Look

Seriously, these boxes should have a pair of eyes drawn on them as part of the design, to remind the user that they are being watched.

I don't think Amazon wants to remind people it is omnipresent like that.

For example, I got an Amazon Tap because I liked having a physical button to enable the mic. They then released a setting in the Alexa app that allowed it to always listen when toggled on (yes, I realize if I truly cared about privacy that a button like that is just an illusion and they can record whenever they want).

That was fine, I tried it out in situations where I didn't have a free hand (doing dishes for example). It had red notification lights that came on when it was always listening which reminded me the setting was on. This is also important because of the way the battery drains when it is on.

Recently I went to switch it on, and no red lights. There was no visible indicator my Tap was listening or not.

Why would they decide to remove that?

Better yet, they should put a stepper motor in the bottom of the unit. Then it can rotate towards the user. That would work better for hands-free use, and would make the video calling work better too, if you are up and about.

I'm surprised an Amazon Echo accessories category hasn't really started yet. I could see kids loving a pair of googly eyes on their family Amazon device 8-)

I wonder, why go this route instead of creating a device to add to your TV?

My echo is right next to the TV.

They actually already have that. The Fire TV Stick has "Alexa" in it, but you have to use the push-to-talk remote instead of having an always-on mic as in the Echo.

It would be nice not to need a remote, like with Kinect but with better mics and voice recognition

Part of the problem with that is that if the TV isn't on the right input then you won't be able to receive the response. HDMI Control to change the input exists, but with false positives it might be a bad thing still because it would interrupt whatever you're doing to listen and go "i couldn't understand the question i was asked". I'd quickly disable it if it was doing that.

I power my chromecast directly and it uses HDMI-CEC to automatically turn on the TV. It works pretty well.

Won't be long until TV's are internet connected microphones too.

My guess is the TV market is different than the market they're going after, which kinds of seems like a "digital assistant" kind of market.

Presumably, they could come out with an Amazon Echo-fied TV sometime in the future though, but their priority of device releases seems careful and calculated.

Amazon Echo first, to see if there's even any market for digital assistants.

Amazon Echo Dot next, to extend their reach in the house.

Amazon Echo Look and Show third and fourth, released at roughly the same time, to extend their reach into some of people's everyday behaviors.

I imagine they have a roadmap that is aligned to other everyday behaviors and prioritized against what is easier to aid with a AI-powered digital assistant. Changing behaviors are never easy, so presumably, they are targeting ones that are less habitualized, under-served, or not currently served at all.

With that theory in mind, TV is already a well-served need, so it wouldn't be a high priority to Amazon Echo-fy just yet.

Because this way the screen can turn on and off dynamically.

Also, it doesn't tie you to having to have a TV in a location you want one.

HDMI-CEC allows similar on most modern TVs.

As for not being tied to where you have a TV, for $200 you can buy a 40"+ 1080p TV, for $100 you can have a really nice IPS 22" 1080p monitor. Probably better than this tiny thing.

Leaving aside interoperability fun and the user experience that /u/smacktoward refers to, TVs don't always switch on very quickly.

My TV takes a good 10 seconds to start producing audio after the google chromecast 'on' command. Putting the screen in themselves gives them control of that experience.

Netflix is taking care of that for you.

> When you see the Netflix Recommended TV logo, you’ll know the TV has passed a rigorous evaluation process.

> TV Instant On

> Your TV starts up instantly and apps are ready to use right away, just like your smartphone.


The instant on feature is generally just a standby mode, which can consume a fairly substantial amount of power.

I've also found that disabling the 'instant on' feature of my TV makes it perform much better. When I used the standby mode, apps would occasionally crash or stop responding after a few hours. The only way to get them to work again was to unplug the TV.

I never have to unplug the TV now that I've disabled instant on.

That being said, I own a Samsung TV, which has the worst software of any TV I've used, except for Philips, which was worse only because the TV I owned didn't support SSH keys longer than 48-bits or something really stupid like that.

Ideally I'd be able to purchase a non-smart TV that turned on instantly, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

TV manufacturers seem to be really averse to just making an awesome display. They have to value add features that open security holes and are so poorly maintained that in a couple years you'll need to buy a new TV.

Not to mention they add all those useless post-processing effects that increase latency to the point where it's almost impossible to play games on them.

I don't understand why a signal coming in through HDMI signal has 9 milliseconds of lag on my cheap monitor, and 46 seconds on my fairly nice tv. In gaming mode the tv has something like 35 ms of lag.

I've seen TVs that have enough input lag that you get noticeable audio sync issues if you use an external audio system. That's ridiculous.

AFAIK most TVs have a "Game" picture mode that will disable post-processing.

Some post-processing but not all. Most TVs are ill suited for Gaming which is ironic since the gaming industry thrives in front of the TV.

>so poorly maintained that in a couple years you'll need to buy a new TV.

I think they consider that a feature. For the record, I absolutely agree as a consumer that TVs just need to be awesome display panels with a recent remote and sufficient inputs. But I understand why the manufacturers may not want to buy into that.

When money is no object, you have to get a commercial display (like this [0], w/ 55" class (54.6" diagonal) Edge-Lit LED IPS Digital - $1350MSRP). Otherwise, something like a Vizio P series (which has an embedded chromecast) is good if you turn-off the wifi radio and/or never give it your AP's credentials.

I grew up with a TV that would immediately turn-on when you pressed the button (you could even hear an audible sound from the TV set), and the cable TV remote (it was separate in the 80s too) could change channels at 4-5 per second (this is when channels surfing was born because they would render so fast).

Vizio has a line of OTA-free displays, but they still have a Linux kernel. This is a good start, but going back to whatever RTOS they use to have would be better.


I have one of the last Panasonic Plasmas. Actually two of them in different sizes. I'd be hard pressed to justify replacing while they still work. Though an LG OLED did turn my head a bit when I walked into a Best Buy last month.

The moment you tell people "for this to work you have to go buy something else separately," you lose a huge chunk of potential sales. People don't want to do the work of figuring out what specific model of something else they need, where they have to go to get it, etc. Even if you put the something else on the shelf right next to your thing, the added cognitive load will turn lots of people off.

Build the other thing in to your thing, and all those problems go away.

Yeah, I have no problem with that in theory, just don't make a crappy overpriced version of the other thing...

Did you click through and see the offers to bundle security cameras and other IOT products?

That's different. Those are additional functionality not a requirement to use the core functionality of the device.

Would you put that TV on your kitchen counter? Sometimes you don't need a 22” screen.

Yeah. I have no place in my kitchen to reasonably put a large monitor. That said, I wouldnt be at surprised to see a future version of this as a box or a fire stick like thing to plug into an existing tv.

HDMI-CEC is nice on paper, but seems to be a mess in most cases.

My TV supports it and fails randomly to wake up, googling it at the time, a flurry of other TVs models were mentionned as not working properly. I think there was a ATP episode on the topic, with the same conclusion: it works sometimes, if you're lucky.

"Let me just put this 40 inch TV on my kitchen counter...".

Hmmm, Google Home already turns Android TVs on and off on the fly. (or TVs with Chromecasts plugged into a modern HDMI-CEC slot). Or push info to the discovery tab of the Home app. I suppose there is some value in putting an ugly (IMO) 7" screen in specific locations where you don't have or want a TV, like a kitchen, but it seems rather niche.

Locate remote, Turn on TV, select EXT3 input....

Modern HDMI-based systems can do this in one stroke. And by "modern" I mean that pushing my PS3 (yes, 3, not 4) button to start it up starts up my TV, and would start up my audio system were it not too old for that. (Though it occurs to me now to check whether it might do that if I routed HDMI in to it; for historical reasons I route optical audio to it which I believe lacks the channel for this.)

Shutting things back down seems to be a bit more challenging, though. The TV recognizes the PS3 turning off and returns to live TV (the last thing I really want it to switch to, but whatever), but the whole system teardown is a bit more complicated.

On my PS3 this worked 100% of the time, one third of the time. I suppose that for this sort of application you really need it to be 100% reliable.

Doesn't the FireTV/Stick do full-on Alexa now?

Yes - though it's not listening and you need the voice remote to be in your hand and/or you need to spin up the app on your phone. While that doesn't sound like a barrier to much, it definitely has been for me asking for simple things especially from across the room. Voice interfaces are good for hands-free action, which FireTV doesn't really allow.

As someone who owns both an Echo and a Fire TV Stick, I found it initially surprising that the Echo couldn't control things on the TV. I also found it surprising that the same APIs returning voice responses had been returning data about things to display on a screen the whole time.

This seems like an obvious product for those who completely buy into the Alexa ecosystem.

Yeah. I really meant Alexa being able to control my TV.

It does.

I don't think this is the same usecase, and the person above suggesting it could be used for Netflix is a bit ridiculous to me. I see it more for watching a quick instructional Youtube videos (as we all know there's a How To for everything on Youtube). It's also something small and easy to have around the house for quick video calls.

For watching anything long and serious, I would definitely send it to my TV.

It's not too expensive and it can make calls, plays music, and hopefully can show recipes or TV shows. It sounds like exactly what I would want for my kitchen.

Not everyone has or wants a TV.

Who doesn't have a TV or at least a laptop?

I doubt anyone would use this to watch long videos or Netflix. I see it more for quick calls and short instructional videos. It's small and fits in any room of the house. For longer videos, you'd definitely just send it to the TV.

Watching random videos while washing the dishes though is great.

Its interesting to see how fast Amazon can come to market with these new hardware pieces. I guess the fallout of the Amazon Phone at least had some lessons learned in hardware suppliers, etc... I realize they're throwing hardware out there prior to seeing what the software can do with it, but I think its necessary to get people locked in.

I like their approach from the business perspective. Give the people a voice controlled speaker. Give them a remote! Now, give them a voice-controlled camera! Now, give them a voice-controlled screen! Soon, give them <insert novel sensor> and let them go hands free! Rinse-repeat.

Amazon has been in the hardware game for awhile now with the various Kindle devices. They entered that market, deployed enough SKUs to satisfy nearly everyone out there, and started shifting outside the e-reader product to tablets, etc.

Apple is the juggernaut and is likely to overthink its product offerings and how it affects the ecosystem of existing devices. Just like the Kindle, Amazon is ready to flood the market with SKUs to see what sticks. They're building their brand in hardware very quickly and leading the market with the strongest connected home ecosystem.

> Amazon has been in the hardware game for awhile now with the various Kindle devices.

Not just the Kindle devices, but also a growing range of Amazon Basics store-brand products, including batteries, headphones, Bluetooth speakers, paper shredders, towels and sheets, yoga mats, ... the list goes on and on. While many are undoubtedly existing products with the Amazon name stamped on them, Amazon has generally been building a lot of experience working with suppliers/manufacturers.

See: https://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics/

> Amazon is ready to flood the market with SKUs to see what sticks

This seems to be the case, they are taking a short release cycle iterative approach to get it into the customers hands fast. Very lean-startup-esque.

Apple on the other hand is more of a luxury brand. The dynamics with luxury brands is a bit different and high-end product development is more involved. Customer retention and brand consistency is critical to their business. And given their track record and ability to attract talent they don't seem to have much of an issue with doing a yearly waterfall-esque style release.

I'm not sure it makes sense for them to push out a high volume of products. They seemed to operate best when they had a few focused offerings in each category. If they want to expand they should hit new markets instead of flooding one with lots of options (which seems to be the way Tim is going).

But otherwise I agree, Apple tends to pigeonhole their 'ecosystem' into everything, which smells of valuing internal business goal instead of consumer values.

While the time between the launch of the Echo Look and the Echo Show was only a couple of weeks, it's not the case that it only took two weeks to spin up the Echo Show. These teams work in parallel for long periods of time; years in most cases.

I'm kind of confused as to why the Look and Show were developed/released in parallel. They're at similar price points and it looks like the Show could do anything that the Look could do, so why have them as separate projects?

Just a few thoughts:

Presumably, people are less likely to spend as much time in their closets as in a kitchen or office, so they probably wouldn't use the full suite of Show capabilities there as much.

The scale of the Show is probably too large to look good on a small dressing table or side table; whereas space may be at less of a premium in the kitchen, living room, or office.

The Look is a much prettier / cleaner / more modern design, which fits better in the intended use case of a "style assistant" - you have to associate style help with someone whose own sense of style is good.

Look is much cheaper to manufacture: missing the big screen and the relatively large speakers (and the amplification circuitry to drive them).

If you needed one device to satisfy both use cases as well as they each do their own, you'd have to have all the cameras of the Look plus the screen and speakers, etc., of the Show, meaning the price would probably end up more like $299, which is a big difference in the world of consumer electronics.

Amazon likes team to have independence and ownership of their own roadmaps and destinies. If the Look team is closely aligned with the Apparel category and reliant on a bunch of visual processing algorithms, that might be completely different from the Show team's needs and dependence on two-way communications and messaging platforms.

Those are really good points -- the design aspects occurred to me as well but not enough to see the difference.

That's also really cool about team independence at Amazon. It seems like it'd be a good way to combat people feeling lost in a big company. Thanks for writing up your thoughts!

They started working on this late 2014 / early 2015. Work started on Look in late 2015.

Source: ;)

Awesome. Now, one more thing: Echo Car. I dunno why, i just want Alexa in my car. She's already in 4 rooms in my house (no wait, 5 including Fire Stick? 7 including the Kindles?), and in my pocket.

Alexa is coming to cars (at least from Ford):


A bit off-topic, but: is Amazon the only company with substantial machine learning talent that doesn't seem to be working on a self-driving car? Are the people who would be doing that busy developing Amazon's drones?

maybe they just see self-driving as D.O.A right now. Or simply, lower priority?

Maybe they're just better at keeping it a secret (given the parent comment by the throwaway id). If Amazon can figure out a way to get self-driving car aligned with a) Alexa, b) logistics, c) prime membership, and/or d) driving shopping to their marketplace - then they are obviously working on it.

Or maybe, typical Amazon, they're already working on Amazon Engine, in parallel with Amazon Wheels, in parallel with Amazon Windshield, and Amazon Steering Wheel, and we'll have something that can be used as a car in a few years.

I would think so. Self driving cars don't align well with what they are trying to do and everyone and their dog is working in that space, so margins will be slim.

Drones let them ship things much faster to customers for cheaper than existing techniques and its easy to see how that helps their business. Margins of existing players in this space are typically much higher, which is something Amazon likes to go after (just look at pre-AWS hosting costs).

I would not be surprised if they are working on consumer robots too. They are probably way ahead already in their deployment of warehouse robots.

you created this account just to tell us that? Was it worth it?

I appreciated it

This is something expected that should have been expected from Apple, not Amazon when it comes to innovative gadgets. Amazon really learned there lesson with phones so create a new market instead of competing in a saturated one. Google can't be far behind.

With a screen now, it's like my own personal drive-thru to order whatever, products, food, whatever amazon is selling.

churn out as much crap as possible and see what sticks!

I was battling back and forth FOR A MONTH with their skill certification approval team for a skill update that would allow customers to call people by name, where in the first version it was only by phone number.

They would fail the certification because apparently people didn't know how to test, or used fake numbers to make phone calls and complained the call would not connect, or the certificate validation (that was working before) would fail, etc. All sorts of things. VERY frustrating process. I wouldn't make any change, submit the skill again for certification and get different results.

Now they announce their own calling feature, a week after finally approving our update.

Kind of sad for you guys, but at the same time not so surprising - it is the fate of every useful platform add-on to be integrated into the platform over time. And calling people by name seems like a low-hanging fruit for Amazon.

Yes... also, when people started talking about an Echo device that could allow phone calls to happen I sent them an e-mail asking if we could have early access to develop our skill using the new device capabilities and asking if they had a beta program, their only response was: we don't comment on rumors.

Silly me.

That seems to be their MO for a lot of things. Mine product sales data to release their own Amazon version and take that extra margin. They do it here as well.

Amazon are strangling the Alexa ecosystem in other ways. They have a strangely parochial attitude to international usage. Phillipines? India? China? Japan? Germany? France? Russia? Korea? Forget it, you're not welcome to develop for this platform.

You can't buy one, and if you try developing for it, you can't test or demo anything that is location-based.

And this is why the Echo will ultimately lose the market to every other voice assistant.

Their skill approval system overall can use a bit more, ahem, intelligence.

No kidding. One of their test results was complaining that our skill was misunderstanding "my coworker" for "michael quicker". I had to reply to say that's just how Amazon sent us what Alexa understood.

Which skill might I ask? Does it work well?


You need to link the skill with a RingByName account in order to use it. Yes, it works well. However, Amazon's speech recognition from Alexa is a challenge for names. Works fine most of the time for American names, but it struggles with foreign names. Results also vary depending on the accent of the user, so our skill always repeats what it got from Amazon to make sure users don't call someone else. We had to do some "magic" in the backend to try to find a contact even though an exact match wasn't found, which works very nicely.

Well we're getting rid of our foreigners so that problem will go away.

If you get rid of foreigners even Amazon will go away :)

The Amazon Echo Show seems very much like a telescreen, straight out of Orwell's 1984: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telescreen

Oh you mean like a Samsung television?

Agreed. I can't possibly see the value in these integrated devices for anyone but Amazon. Beyond that, these things can and will be hacked immediately.

So people buying Alexa products are delirious or what are you suggesting? Because saying there's no market for them is obviously incorrect.

>Because saying there's no market for them is obviously incorrect.

No I'm not saying that at all. Of course people will buy these things. It's just really creepy to me that we've gotten to this point as society where people willingly accept having a webcam and microphone connected to the biggest corporation in the world sitting in their living room, able to monitor anything at any time. People don't realize how much power they are giving to these companies. Do you really think they won't start listening in to conversations and using key phrases to modify your advertising profile? How far do we let these things go?

Until there are known public consequences people don't really care.

People aren't good at preemptively adjusting behaviours if it is beneficial to them in the short term. Just look at saving money or the economics of gym memberships.

Once there are news stories about the privacy costs of using an always-on microphone in your home then people will become wary of purchasing such a device. The conceptual threat will become a real threat.

But in the meantime, as these devices are new and the real life human interest stories of lost privacy are still rare, it's easy for people to look beyond those risks for what they see a significant gain. And not everyone is oblivious to the risks, they just don't care or hide behind the "I've got nothing to hide" fantasy.

Being able to ask a digital assistant questions at anytime is a very useful thing. I would personally love to have such a device if the cost was more accessible (as I don't need it that badly) but the privacy stuff is also a road block for me. But regardless most of the people I know would probably be able to look past that.

That being said, there are a number of cases where products became less popular as the risks became better known and it was harder to look beyond them. And the social pressures is also another factor. Such as having a friend visit who is uncomfortable talking in a room with a listening Alexa - that type of thing could ultimately put downward pressure on the service.

I feel like all of the evidence we have seen is that if something has a camera or microphone then it will be recording you. It might be hackers, law enforcement, overreach by corporations, mass surveillance. But if it exists, it will be used.

Anecdote time. I remember turning on my iPhone and briefly seeing a picture of myself from earlier that day. I don't think I had ever used the front camera on the phone up until that point. My phone was spying on me. It was the creepiest and most unsettling feeling seeing that picture of myself where it should not have been. There were lots of reports of this sort of thing at the time. And I was surprised to see it happen to me. Not entirely pleased with Apple but Google is worse.

Well. We have smart phones, which are essentially the same, but portable.

>We have smart phones, which are essentially the same, but portable.

Yeah, I had that realization as I was typing this. I think the crucial difference here though is that having a powerful computer with GPS and an internet connection in my pocket is a life changing technology that empowers me as an individual. These new products from Amazon are nothing but another vector for collecting your personal information disguised as a convenience. It's like those "As seen on TV" products. Useless nonsense that solves a specific problem already covered by more general tools.

"will be hacked immediately" is a bit of a bold claim.

I would be surprised if this device were not already compromised by our government.

I must be one of those old farts who prefers privacy over convenience.

I do not want what amounts to an always-on black-box surveillance device in my home and I simply do not understand why other people think it is okay. I honestly don't.

Down with this sort of thing!

If the expected utility of the device exceeds the likely set of problems that come with it, people might choose to buy one.

Clearly you've done this calculation but come up with a different answer. Assuming there is some utility there, it must be the surveillance aspect that is the problem. If you got an Echo, what harm do you think you would likely experience?

I can see almost no situation in which the benefits of having a plugged in camera or mic I do not know isn't always on outweigh the costs, even if the cost is "just" mental complacence with surveillance.

If I need peace of mind away from home, I can simply plug in a webcam or connect the otherwise-airgapped security system to the network while I'm away. If I want a hands-free mic, I can buy one with a power switch and connect it to whatever setup I need it for.

If amazon releases hardware that makes it verifiably possible to have such setups, more power to them I suppose. But as likely they won't, as they prefer "all-in-one" solutions that give them "last-mile level" control over how their devices get used, I will probably never buy such devices from them.

I got an echo from a company for attending a presentation.

I used it a bit, but turned it of permanently after one day I logged in to my router and saw that Echo was generating noticeable amount of traffic even though no one was at home.

I think the only way I could try always on device again is if company like Amazon would provide API and I would create the always-on device.

In short I want to be in control what is being sent and what isn't.

Is your internet metered? I'm trying to find what people think is the likely harm to come from Amazon having a microphone in their home.

There are still a few sane people left that won't deliberately plant a surveillance device in their homes.

I get the sentiment, but I'm asking why. There's clearly some utility to the device, right? It has some value to some people. What negative outcomes would you expect will happen due to them having that device in their homes? What percentage of Echo owners do you think will end up with regrets about installing the device?

Seeing how 2(?) billion people are using Facebook, it's obvious that most people either don't care or don't understand the implications behind giving away their privacy.

The Echo is a neatly packaged surveillance device that's disguised as a.. What are these things called? Voice assistants?

As with pretty much every IoT device, these things can be broken into by malicious actors and then they get to listen in too. Next thing on the list is that Amazon can do whatever it wants with those recordings and I highly doubt they're only listening in after you mention certain keywords. More likely that's just the trigger to flip the "answer back" switch. And last but not least we should not forget about the surveillance agencies, who will get unrestricted access to this one way or another.

In the grand way of things, this is just another method people are letting themselves being monitored. Just another small step towards total authoritarian control by mega-corporations and dictators. We have to step up and stop this from happening while we still can, or else there won't be any privacy left for anyone of us and the next generation will just grow up with it "being normal".

And before you ask, no, I don't have a smart phone. I have a very dumb phone that I can only use to call someone with or get called myself and more often than not I don't carry it around with me.

As with laws, it is difficult to predict the outcome of misuse or outright abuse of powerful technologies.

The cost here is whatever you can imagine happening if every utterance and the implied judgement of your character escaped into the wild should a keen hacker, nefarious internal actor, or simply a product manager raised by wolves goes ahead "liberates" your data feed. Amazon want to compensate us with, what? ... looks like voice commands and a marginal reduction in search effort, particularly when searching for things they want you to buy from them.

Careful now.

If you assume a villain/nefarious actor is in play, then people have been doing this with mobile phones/tablets/computers/smart TVs for a long time - why do we make such a big distinction between those devices and this one. They're the same thing.

Do you own a cellphone with a camera and microphone?

Personally, I have a sticker on all cameras (front-facing phone camera, monitor, laptop). I can't do anything against having hot mics everywhere, but I'll be damned if I have internet connected cameras pointed at me, I don't trust IoT security one bit.

No, and unless I have to some type of on-call job in the future, I never will. POTS works fine for telephony, and my computer is much faster, has better features, is far easier to read, and isn't de facto controlled by Apple|Google.

While portable devices can be a useful tool, far too many people are addicted to the dopamine hit they get by hitting "refresh", and/or distracted by shiny tech baubles.

Good on you. I've gone back and forth between having a smart device and not, and while I've been on the move for a while and thus benefitted from having one, will likely go back to pre-smartphone hardware once settled.

Other than net browsing (which I find woefully underpowered on mobile even today) and listening to music, I rarely if ever use this thing's auxillary functions. Most of the "defaults" are just clutter reminiscent of the pre-smartphone vendor days (complete with the "but look, you can make them less visible, just move them around!"). Can relate on the distraction bit as well, as that used to be a bigger problem for me.

Yes, but only one from a vendor with a well-demonstrated commitment to privacy and with no 'always listening' features enabled. Believe it or not this is not some sort of extremist stance!

I would never bring something like this into my home, I just don't trust big corporations enough for that.

A lot of people who say this still bring in the smart TV. Or the comcast remote with a Mic. Or an IP camera. Or a cellphone. What's so different about this?

Are you sure those are the same people? If so it might be ignorance. Also it is a bit harder to buy non smart TV, but you don't have connect it to the network.

Non-hypocrisy? Awareness? Differences in setup or where they draw the line?

Take your pick, I'm sure the list goes on. That's the beauty of a strawman argument, there's no shortage of fields to ship it off to.

Well, there are probably some similar devices for sale on Alibaba from very small corporations.

Any echo owners feel like they would get additional value out of this?

90% of my interaction with my standard echo has been "what's the weather".

Even when I want visual controls for music, I'd rather pull out my phone than walk over to a screen.

Our use is 90% hands-and-eyes-free music control. The other 10% is me playing with skills I never use beyond t+10 of install. The whole appeal thus far has been eyes-free use.

I am really under-utilizing my echo dot. I just have it turn lamp lights off and on every couple weeks as a gimmick.

I had such a strong urge to get connected lights, but then moved on. Spotify and Tune-In are the integrations I use. It's nice to get to a certain playlist. Best of all I can ask for a specific local radio station (e.g. 104.5) for white noise for my dogs as I'm walking out the door.

It's one less thing to fiddle with every day and that's my sole appeal for home tech ... devices that reduce the amount of babysitting I have to do to achieve a desired outcome.

I'm using my Echo as part of my smart house. And using it every day for the following things:

"Alexa turn on/off the lights" "Alexa turn my home temperature to 20 degrees" "Alexa play Sublime FM Radio" "Alexa turn on work mode" -> scene activates for working "Alexa turn on sleep mode" -> scene activates for going to bed "Alexa turn off my tv"

Its mainly OpenHab on a raspberry pi that enables all this. However some things (like my thermostat) are directly connected to the Echo.

Also things like the Chromecast dont work well with the Echo. So i'm lost there.

Otherwise its great.

I use the Echo Dot a lot in the kitchen, and I could see having recipes and other video-based stuff up being very useful. Kitchen is also a hub for activity and kids and could be useful for video chatting or a second-screen to stream [insert must-watch event here] while cooking / socializing.

Getting the screen and speakers subsidized by the lock-in is a pretty intriguing model. Not sure I could get the hardware at that price point elsewhere. Will be interesting to see if there's a modding community that develops.

>my standard echo has been "what's the weather".

A 7 day forecast is probably better with the screen.

>Even when I want visual controls for music, I'd rather

Clearly it's for the Karaoke capability :)

I use solely for weather, music & to control my room's lights. It basically sucks at recognizing my voice commands 50% of the time, sometimes i just pull out my phone to do that.

On the other hand, Google Assistant is unsurprisingly better at recognizing voice, give more information about everything. I am going to soon dump my echo for a home, just waiting for the Google IO to see if there will be a home-2.

My main interactions with it are to play the radio (TuneIn), connect to my phone via bluetooth, and stop/start the playback.

That's about it right now, I don't use it for anything else. I find you really need to enunciate your words otherwise it just gets confused and gives up (that's a UK midlands accent for you though...)

I am going with the idea that if they throw enough uses/features at the wall something is going to stick. The first step of course if getting people to talk to the device and they increase the chances of finding that breakthrough by giving people more reasons to do so.

I would not mind full home integration to where it detects me by my phone if not my saying I'm home and turning lights on if needed and more. (better yet, get me phone integration so that it knows when I am coming home after an hour or so away - knows I am on my street and stuff turns on)

technology is going to give everyone a personal assistant at home and one day it may just follow you. (Dave, while we are in the store don't forget to get the eggs)

I use Alexa integrated with SmartThings and that allows all these automations e.g. lights switch off automatically when I leave, thermostat turns down heating/cooling etc.

For learning/doing something manual for the first time. Following a recipe, or doing a home repair. It would be greats to have hands free control of video playback.

I could see a few use cases in the kitchen (that are probably still better solved with a tablet on a stand):

- step by step cooking tutorials that auto pause until you say "alexa, play/preview next step" - multiple named timers on the screen - shopping lists are way better visually - video calls to cooking tutors (I wonder if there's a market for this?)

My Echo is basically for music and weather as well. However, my less tech inclined -- not always attached to a laptop -- friends and family (e.g. my parents) love theirs and seem to do a whole lot more. I think HN is not necessarily the demographic that is the focus.

Yeah, the echo dot at it's price point is worth it just to get the weather. I also use it to read the news too.

I do see the Echo Show sitting on the kitchen island, but at $229, not so sure.

I think the biggest benefit is video calling. Get your parents one, get one yourself, schedule a video call with them once a week (or whatever). Easier than Facetime since you don't have to hold up the phone. Reminds me of the videophones in the Starship Troopers movie.

Surely two phone stands would be cheaper. You can even initiate the call with voice if you really don't want to touch anything.

Neither of my parents (70+) can handle smart phones. They get computers, TVs and other personal electronics just fine, but iOS and Android are both basically unusable for them. Both OSes have too many distractions and too many interaction choices, so the phone is always doing something unexpected and confusing. I've occasionally talked them through doing a hangouts call on a computer and they've loved seeing their grandkids on the video, but the smartphone interface has kept them from doing regular video calls. However, my father figured out how to turn off my TV and turn on lights in about 5 minutes, without being taught, using my Echo Dot.

It's not about not "wanting to touch anything" - the voice interface is slower and less flexible than a visual interface in a lot of ways, but it's also more consistent and easier to memorize key interactions.

Why not get a tablet with a basic cover/stand? It has far more overall utility and isn't difficult to use.

Cheaper cost, even easier to use since it has voice? I can see this going over well with older generations who are still fumbling around or slower with with phones and ipads.

I guess it will have a discreet success among non tech people. Just the videochat (alexa call mom) feature for that price is very inviting.

Allrecipes integration is fantastic.

Not really. This lacks basic tablet-level functionality. I cant see this taking off.

It continues to surprise me how far ahead of them Apple is letting Amazon/Google get in this area. I've always been a big fan of Apple (despite their closed ecosystem), but have to admit that Amazon is seriously outplaying them on this front. Hopefully Apple surprises me and comes up with something even more innovative that can compete.

When I saw this, I actually had the opposite reaction.

I remember when I first saw an iPod Nano with the color screen and the scroll wheel that magically scrolled up and down by just moving your finger around it without actually turning a wheel. It seemed like magic. Same thing when I first saw the iPhone/iPod Touch. Apple's products were very carefully designed and only released when they were perfect, and very rarely failed to wow you.

Amazon on the other hand, always seems to rush things to market and then see what sticks. I understand that this is largely their ethos, but when it comes to Amazon hardware, I've found myself pretty cynical towards it because they've released so much poorly-executed crap over the years. Even with Alexa, I like many others, find that it's pretty much useless for anything beyond playing music or setting a timer.

Having an Echo, I saw this and my first thought was "meh." I have a feeling that if Apple released a similar product category, that wouldn't be the case.

My latest gen Apple TV wants to disagree with you. As does my wife's first gen Apple Watch ... both are magical turds IMHO.

I don't own an Apple Watch, but I know lots of people who do and love them.

But in any case, I think the last ten years of iPhone and iPad releases do somewhat agree with me.

So if we only look at Apple's successful products, we can agree that Apple's only makes "very carefully designed" things..

I think that holds for pretty much all of their products, successful or not.

But if you want to argue that Amazon is a better product company than Apple, then have at it.

Right. Cube, Ping, etc

It's amazing that the Apple TV is considered a turd. They seemingly did everything right. Support for third party apps, an awesome remote, decent power. Aside from missing 4k, what makes it such a turd?

The Apple TV is fine for what little I use it for. My main complaint is that I apparently can't use Siri for my own music collection. And that's basically the only music I play through the Apple TV. (It drives my stereo from my iTunes library.)

I absolutely LOVE my Apple TV. Best device in the house.

This comment really adds nothing to the discussion. Why is it being upvoted?

I agree Apple does release a far higher quality product which is why I'm a fan. Your point about the iPod Nano and iPhone/iPod Touch is a great one. Apple does have a track record of holding back and releasing a much more relevant and well thought out product in the end. I guess I question if this is even a product category they want to get into or if they feel that from a utility standpoint the ability to just say "Hey Siri..." from any apple device already fits the bill for most use cases.

But Amazon's products are cheap. Echo first gets out, it is merely 99 dollars, and at the time, a vanilla bluetooth speaker worth that much. It is about accessibility.

Amazon Echo was $199 when it was first introduced, which was still fairly competitively priced against premium bluetooth speakers.

Prime subscribers were offered it for $99 when it was first announced. I think you had to get put on a waiting list but that's how I ended up with mine.

My mistake. I haven't been a prime subsciber for many years, and didn't realize that they got such a great deal on the Echo at first.

The deal didn't last very long and I don't think many people were familiar with the idea of a home personal assistant device at the time. Siri was around but I think by that point (late 2014) the hype had faded for that quite a bit. There were a few Kickstarters[0] that were trying to tackle the idea but none of them took off, and Amazon came along and made them obsolete.

The Echo was very, very bare bones in terms of functionality at the start. There were like half a dozen basic commands and that was it, so my guess is people who saw the Prime invitations for it didn't think it was even worth the $99. I just scrolled through my inbox to find the oldest "What's new with Alexa" message I was sent from January 30, 2015, and it mentions adding Pandora/Spotify support as well as making the companion phone apps available, so those didn't even exist for the first few months Echo was for sale.

[0] https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/607691307/ubi-the-ubiqu...

If you preordered when it was first announced, it was $99. Once it was released, the price returned to full $199.

Also the Fire Phone, which as I remember was priced at about $650.

It was $99 for Prime members.

I see what you did there.

"Apple's products were very carefully designed..."

I figure Apple is letting them figure out the basics and then they will introduce Siri-in-a-box kind of thing. No sense in being first to market if your execution is flawed.

Bascially this. Since the return of Jobs, Apple has not been first about anything (and one may argue about them not being so back in the day as well). But Jobs always had a flare for marketing.

I think he understood what people wanted and knew how to communicate that to his team and the market.

Can you have loyal customers with just marketing? Certainly you can get them to buy a product, but marketing doesn't create satisfied customers post purchase. Being first is similar. You can certainly get some nice industry buzz (marketing) by being first. People will buy the product, but will they be satisfied? Only if it is well designed.

I feel like the Blue Origin / SpaceX "first to land" is relevant here.

Blue Origin (another Bezos company) was technically first to land a rocket, and gloated about it. But SpaceX has a more useful implementation as of now.

Isn't "Siri in a Box" basically the current Apple TV?

Does AppleTV have HDMI pass through? You would need it for it to compete with the echo. The echo is always on, always listening and accessible. Having to turn on the TV and change inputs and all that removes all of the conveniences of the echo.

My feeling is that some company is gonna do that eventually, use the set top box as the home hub, but there are some convenience issues to be figured out.

Why not sell a display that will work with it wirelessly? It would basically be the iPad with WiFi but no touch screen, no camera, maybe even no battery (always plugged-in), and a stripped down iOS with limited CPU/RAM/storage. You talk to the AppleTV box, the display lights up and shows you what you asked for. Add a microphone to the display so it can hear where you are and display you the results in your kitchen display, bedroom display or wherever.

And add a feature to listen to commands like "Show me X on my phone" or "Send this to my phone" and it will display whatever you just asked for on your iPhone. Or even "Send this to [contact name]".

There are a lot of smart TVs already integrating with internet... I would imagine most would be like that in the future. It didn't make sense to me why they integrated a screen (other than to get people to use it in every room/ some sort of Amazon strategy that usually works for an unforeseen outcome).

What I haven't seen is something like the electronic-paper Kindle... a calm display. Most of the time I have my laptop and tv on quick shut-down because the ambient light feels grating (maybe it's the feeling of losing energy? not sure why it annoys me). A calendar or XKCD board would be awesome.... have the echo just populate a poster with stuff that's slightly irritating to lookup... this leads into an idea of having 'settings' for the environment/ room...hmm

I have wondered whether Apple has tried to buy Sonos. Seems like HomeKit + Sonos + Siri + iOS gadget displays could be a great mix.

I feel like this entire product could be a Chromecast-esque dongle that connects to a TV. Having a personal dashboard would actually be quite useful, but this seems like they want to sell appliances not experiences.

Maybe they've gone with this form factor because of the 2x 2" speakers? But why would I want that when it could be plugged directly into my home audio setup?

Or maybe it's so they can include a touchscreen? But I thought the whole point was hands-free conversational interaction?

I guess I'm missing the point of this. Why would I, as a normal consumer, get this instead of a regular Amazon Echo?

I think there are certainly reasons to have your "hands-free conversational interaction" device also be able to show you things.

It seems like the big pitch they're making right now is on communications, but there are loads of reasons why I can imagine it being useful. Most mornings, I ask Alexa about the weather. Usually, the voice response is all I need, but occasionally, there are storms in the forecast, and there's a big difference between "60% chance of thunderstorms" and "here's the radar image".

Traffic is another good example. You want to know that there's a 30 minute delay on your route to work, but it's more important to know where so you can plan your route around it.

Just look at human interactions. We mostly communicate by voice, but that doesn't mean that we attempt to provide every answer as spoken conversation. If I ask my hypothetical assistant what a lemur looks like, he or she would grab an image from Google -- not spend 5 minutes giving me descriptions of dimensions and colors.

> Traffic is another good example. You want to know that there's a 30 minute delay on your route to work, but it's more important to know where so you can plan your route around it.

Back when I used Android, Google Now seemed to really do this right (if creepily): it figured out when/where you commuted and would give you a heads-up before you left, offering to plan a route around the trouble. More useful since you take your phone with you. Also you didn't have to ask.

Did you ever take a look at the location tracking info google keeps on you? They know everywhere I've been for the last several years or so.

I just checked, they list location data back to 2009.


I went here with the intent to delete my history but I actually kinda like being able to see this. I've got mixed feelings about it..

I wrote a little script for viewing the data as a heatmap a while ago, if you're interested: https://github.com/olane/locationheatmap

Yes, I have the exact same feeling. I like seeing all the places I've been, but I hate that google also sees all the places I've been.

I've recently installed Owntracks on my phone and have started logging all my location updates, so soon I may be able to just drop the google location tracking.

I agree with you that an assistant with the ability to show you things is more useful, but if I wanted to see a radar image I would just pull out my phone and ask it in the first place.

The selling point of this genre of devices seems to rest on the utility of voice control, but this products only innovation is a built in display.

Well, you could pull your phone out and use it to do literally any task that an Echo-like device could do. The entire selling point is the convenience of "talk to the air and things happen". I'm not sure why there should be some arbitrary line drawn where you only want to use voice for input when voice is sufficient for output.

I thought that as well, but now that i've gotten into the home automation game, i've found that TVs just aren't fast enough for it.

My TV takes 15 seconds on average to start up, and then another 3 or 4 to have sound. There is no easy way to turn them on and off in a reliable manner, and for some unknown reason many disable CEC by default...

Not to mention that having to choose between watching something on TV and using the device is an annoying decision to make in a lot of cases.

You can leave the TV always on, but muted and blacked out by the set top box. That may be a good solution to that? Not sure if anyone has designed that on a set top box.

most TVs are then still using almost full power, some still aren't "black" when a black screen is up (it provides light at night, enough to see with in my case!), and still puts off heat.

It's a hack that might work for something personal, but I wouldn't be comfortable selling a product that did this.

Fair points. I'm really kind of tied to the idea that someone is going to do this as a set-top box format. What you mention is a major issue though. Maybe it can use the video output only if the TV is already on, and just failsafe to audio in those cases, like a regular echo.

That's the only way I can see it working, and I'd be interested in something like that, but I am dreading the technical support system needed to handle all the issues like CEC not working, IR codes (if you go that direction), shitty TV firmwares, passthroughs, various amounts of audio delay (if you plan to switch between on-device audio and TV's audio), and all kinds of other stuff.

But I would be interested in a device that could pull it off. Doubly so if they were cheap enough to get one for each TV.

Its annoying that a "smart" TV is defined as supporting an API Yahoo removed three years ago, but there are no "smart" TVs that understand their inputs and could go into some kind of sleep mode.

The "smart" booting up does take 20 seconds, but as you can see in a laptop going to sleep to wide awake should take less than a second.

Just because smart TVs are poorly designed doesn't imply there's a technical limitation to display technology. Its technically possible to make a useful smart TV, even if there are none today.

Of course, but if you are going to try and make a product which relies on well working and fast "smart" (or otherwise) TVs and there aren't any (or enough) of them today, your product isn't going to get very far.

Eh, people are spoiled by transistors. There were a time when you had to wait 15 minutes for the vacuum tubes to warmup before you could see anything on the screen :)

Agreed on most points, however there is a bit of utility in it. Every time your echo directs you to the Alexa smartphone app, you realize how useless it is. I know how to use the Internet. If I wanted to look something up, I know how to do it and I wouldn't need to use the Alexa app.

I think the key part of the screen is how it functions as output rather than as input. It can "fail" more gracefully when it has no idea what you're talking about, or when there are troubleshooting issues.

And on that point, I have sort of come to the same conclusion that these home assistants would be best as plug ins to a TV with HDMI pass through. Keep the audio input interface but default to a video output interface that overlays on your TV, somewhat similar to what the Xbox used to do with snapped windows.

I have sort of come to the same conclusion that these home assistants would be best as plug ins to a TV

Very much disagree. My TV is not in the part of the house I spend most of my time, and when I'm watching TV I almost certainly don't want a bunch of stuff overlaid on top of whatever I'm watching. I could conceptually see something like this working in my kitchen/dining room, but not if I have to put a TV there just for that.

"I have sort of come to the same conclusion that these home assistants would be best as plug ins to a TV with HDMI pass through."

Wait - is "HDMI passthrough" a thing ?

I wouldn't think so - HDMI has copy protection on it and so an HDMI passthrough device would need to MITM the normal signal ...

Would be very interested to know if this exists and if so, how it works ...

The Xbox One is the only device I know of that has it. There may be others. A quick search seems to suggest so, but it appears that a lot of it use it for audio only? Not sure how that works.

It'd be awesome if I could connect my Chromecast to the Google Home and have the Home use my TV as the display for content like this.

Have you looked at the Nvidia shield TV? It seems to do more or less what you're asking for.

Better density of info without having to listen to a long winded reply. It doesn't work for everything, but I can see the utility for things like a weather summary..."show me the 7 day forecast". Mentioned elsewhere, though, I would rather have this integrated into a TV dongle like their Fire TV.

I know they've recently introduced Alexa to the Fire TV, which is a Chromecast-esque dongle that connects to a TV. So they kinda already have that. This seems more like a tablet with bigger speakers?

I'm not willing or interested enough to enable voice activation (Siri) on my phone or desktop, but thought Echo would be nice to have as a music player. The voice recognition is so reliable -- not just the NLP, but the mic array (unlike trying to activate Siri on the iPhone) -- that it's converted me to a true believer in voice interfaces, at least for simple tasks, such as playing music, turning on NPR, and activating timers and alarms. I do have the Fire stick connected to a projector but I've definitely longed for the ability to navigate YouTube or HBO on a tablet-like device with Alexa (again, not just the NLP, but the mic array, which Fire tablets don't have)

This seems like a nice step in that direction but I've been spoiled by the low cost of the Echo Dot, which when it's on sale is so cheap it can be a stocking stuffer. I don't think I could pay $229 for the first generation version of the Show, but will likely get its cheaper, more advanced iterations.

Same here on all accounts, I'd just add that before I buy more Echoes Amazon needs to make the Multi-Room Integration better so it's better to furnish out a larger apartment or house. I mean there's probably no difference between a single NSA listening device and a suite of them.

Maybe that's just me, but based on the photos, this device looks quite ugly - which matters for a gadget that people put inside their homes, doesn't it? The "original" Echo has a futuristic design. This one feels more like created in 70s or 80s.

I think that's intentional. It's more like something my grandma would own. And it looks less likely that they would be spying and recording everything I'm doing. I guess it makes people feel safer since it looks "dumber"

Good point.

They tried their damnedest to hid it in the product photos, but I'm surprised at how chunky this thing is. You could almost squeeze a ray tube in there!

People here are really missing the point... This isn't another ipad it's a different way of interacting. It's not just video message either, it's a new human interface for interacting with software. You can communicate with someone and get suggestions at the same time. Think conversing with a friend and having Alexa aid in the discussion.

Friend 1: Where do you want to go to the movies tonight? .. Friend 2: I dunno Alexa have any good suggestions? Alexa: Star Trek is playing x:00 at X theatre. Things of this nature.

Why does it have to be a tiny self contained screen? Until I can say "Alexa, on the main view screen" (right after "Alexa, Earl Grey, hot" of course), we've got progress to make.

Which reminds me, I've got a Keurig to hack...

You hit the nail on the head. Back in 90s we could connect any audio/video device to any other device, because manufacturers agreed on basic analog signals. Now, everything is "smart" and isolated. Is it too much to ask to be able to route audio/video/other signals from sources to sinks regardless device boundaries?

It's not helping that big companies like Amazon want to establish themselves as _the_ hub for IoT.

Ok Google, show me Futurama from Netflix on living room. Ok Google, fast forward 27 seconds.

As soon as they get the ability to play specific episodes (it knows what you're asking, it just can't do it yet) and hook it up to the knowledge graph? Ok Google, show me the Futurama episode where Hermes loses his job on living room.

The Friends episode naming scheme is going to look extra prescient in the future, since they all (with rare exception(s)) are called "The One With [2-6 word summary of the episode's A plot]": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Friends_episodes

MM the Alex Replicator :-)

I don't see the value in this over a tablet with a stand. The tablet is portable, can do more things, and already exists in many people's homes.

I have an old iPad taped to my kitchen wall for recipes, YouTube, and playing music via Bluetooth.

It's really handy but "Hey Siri" works maybe 30% of the time. I don't really use it anymore. The worst part is that Siri can't integrate with other music apps, other note taking apps, other video players, or pretty much anything. So it's incredibly crippled despite being able to parse my requests.

If Alexa can fix that, this would be pretty neat.

It has a much better microphone array. It's actually probably the one thing that stands out about the echo to me. The mic is really good.

Seconding this. I never used Siri because it required holding the phone up to my face for reliable results. The Echo Dot can hear me across the room even as its playing music and other people are talking. The Fire tablets have Alexa built in but I believe they not only require a button-push to activate, but rely on their limited mics.

Until Alexa, I hadn't tried Siri since its initial launch years ago. I was surprised to see that its AI/NLP was as good as Alexa's. So the killer feature really is the convenient and reliable interface provided by the Echo's mics.

one day there will be a cheap bluetooth mic array that works with anything. I'm surprised that day hasn't arrived yet

> can do more things

You answered your own question. Not every device used in a home (remote control, light switch, thermostat) needs to be replaced with a full tablet computer, even if it could be.

Who would want this Amazon product for every light switch, remote control, and thermostat? No, most buyers will probably just buy one for a household. In that case, I agree that a regular tablet would suffice.

My point was that you have a remote control already; you don't use a tablet instead of that, just for use as a remote control. In a similar way, a tablet might be overkill for a 'home assistant', and the Amazon Echo seems designed to address that.

That it can do more things is a negative for me.

An always on dedicated device that lives in one location with excellent array mics is going to be more useful to me than a tablet that I have to locate and turn on before I can use it.

I have a nexus 6p with an aftermarket Qi charger and a generic Qi pad in my bedroom to charge, and its mostly nice other than the charger interface and/or pad go into "save the earth by destroying your devices" mode after a 100% charge so every morning I pick up a 70% or so charged phone. That way trying to have a charged phone I'll get way more cycles and wear out the battery faster. Boy is that fun having control of your battery charging taken away from you for your own good or just design incompetence.

I also had an old Moto Defy I kept for years and years plugged into a wall outlet as a dedicated tune-in audio device. Listen all I want to TuneIn and it wouldn't eat my phone's battery because my old appliance phone was on a charger and my phone was unused in my pocket or whatever. After a couple years on the charger, maybe it was the heat, I donno, the battery bubbled up as they do before they blow up and I got rid of it.

I had a nexus 7 and my kids have had two generations of ipads and there is no perfect stand out there. There are some the fold and collapse when you don't want them to. There are some that hold nicely as long as you're not plugged into charging. There are some that work but look ugly and cluttered. Its a hard problem, apparently. You folks will laugh but my kids solution to the problem of too many devices and not enough space for charging is a device pyramid. I've noticed the main difference between harder-core older computer users and noob/kids is tolerance of dust, grease, and dirt on the screen, so a pyramid of devices on a desk makes sense to kids and noobs even as a more experienced professional who looked into screens 10 hours per day WTFs about it.

Portable is a fail for appliances. I don't want my kids leaving Alexa in a laundry basket or between the cushions in the couch. I don't want to step on it at night. I don't want one more thing to yell at my kids to put it down and go to sleep its your bed time. No one wants a portable surround sound system or a portable toilet or a portable microwave oven. Or even more utilitarian, contemplate a portable hot water heater. A jetboil is nice when I'm camping and drinking my tea but I wouldn't want to replace my houses hot water heater with a jetboil at every sink and over the shower. A portable outside air temperature thermometer is a good analogy where not knowing where to look to see the temperature is not a feature.

Alexa already does more things than I'm interested in having her do. Something that does more is even less interesting than you'd imagine.

Unlike my experiments above, this new thing apparently just works yet costs about the same. I'll take the product that actually works.

A tablet can do a lot of things that this can't, but your tablet's microphone can't reliably recognize speech at normal volume from a few feet away, let alone from across the room.

It's the Chumby for 2017, with less freedom to hack.

This is motivating me to do more work on my chumby clone project I've been putting on the back burner.

In the United States, what is the need for speech recognition devices? At least in Japan and China, speech recognition technology does not reach practical level and needs are small.

There are two major use cases as I see them, and both are buoyed by the fact that these days, speech recognition by devices such as the Echo or Google Home is actually quite impressively good -- it can pretty consistently understand your words from across the room, while it's playing music, for example.

The first case is the "want" factor that others have mentioned on this thread. It's less that I "need" an Echo in my home, and more that it makes certain activities easier: I can get measurement conversions, set timers, and pause my movie while my hands are occupied cooking in the kitchen; I can get the weather forecast while putting on my shoes on the way out; and now, I can also answer calls and send/receive messages while my hands are occupied. It's less that I couldn't do that with my phone or computer and more that Echo-like devices make this more convenient.

The second case involves the fact that there is a comparatively small, but still significant portion of the population that cannot effectively use touch devices to do the things that the rest of us can easily do with our phones. The people who "need" this kind of device the most, in my opinion, are those suffering from paralysis causing them to be unable to use their hands or fingers with enough dexterity to operate a touch screen, or unable to use them at all. These devices are real life-changers for this group, since they can now control lights, their television and other entertainment options, and talk to their loved ones -- all activities that were difficult, expensive (requiring specialized devices), or impossible before.

In addition to this first group, there are also those who often have difficulty figuring out how to use computer/touch screen technology, even though they are physically able to -- the elderly are probably the first example that comes to mind. It's much, much easier to just set up an Echo Show and be able to "drop in" on your grandmother and chat, than it is to get her set up with an iPhone or a computer and teach her how to Skype or text.

So all in all, most people will get this for the "cool" factor and because it makes their lives a little easier, but some people will gain a huge benefit from it.

There isn't a need; it's more of a want. I have a few Echos and use them to control my whole home audio system.

"Alexa, play Kendrick Lamar on Spotify."

Just like that, I have music throughout the house and in the front and back yards. You can also get more specific with commands in order to limit where the music plays, what music service is polled, etc.

It is much easier than pulling out a device, navigating to the application, typing in a search string, selecting the artist, and clicking shuffle playback for all of the artist's songs.

Presumably you only listen to chart-topping american pop and music made by people with common english names?

Because so far I've never had any luck whatsoever with anything else.

"Hey Siri, play some Sun Oh Right Parentheses Right Parentheses Right Parentheses"

I don't know what you have in mind, but I was pretty impressed that when I asked Alexa to play 'Scherzo for X-Wings' she pulled up the right track from the Force Awakens soundtrack without a problem. Try it before you knock it.

Downvoted but a very valid observation. I listen to a lot of Black Metal and as most of it isn't in English, it's hard for Siri to understand what I'm asking for, or to even know if I'm pronouncing it correctly.

You can upload your own mp3s to Amazon Music and play them from the Echo. No cost until you go past 250 songs. http://www.voicedesigned.com/content/how-play-your-mp3s-echo...

The problem is not the availability of the music but Alexa's ability to understand names. If I tell an Echo to play, say, Zuntata, is it going to work? if I tell it japanese band names despite the overall language I speak being English or French, what will happen? Most voice assistants choke when you speak foreign-y names and can only understand them if you set the language of the device to the right language.

A voice assistant is only as useful as its ability to understand speech. If it can't tell anything from half of my music library then it's not worth much to me.

Yeah I've resigned to not being able to use voice assistants since I use 3 different languages on a daily basis.

I literally asked my Google home this morning: "Hey Google, play some Peruvian psychedelic cumbia" and it found exactly what I wanted (using Spotify). For me, these home assistants are the best thing I have bought since my first smartphone.

That's still a genre with a relatively english name. Good luck searching for a specific artist/track.

Doesn't that violate streamed discovery and all that? You should just be thumbs up thumbs down and trust the streaming service to take your advice as it DJs to you. "Alexa play what you think I need to hear"

Nice find : spotify:album:1YCdKn5y7C99mM2sb3QTlo

Sick burn. In your situation, you can pre-program playlists with your funky foreign beats and command Alexa to play the playlist instead. It adds a step, but it's painless after that.

> You can also get more specific with commands in order to limit where the music plays, what music service is polled, etc.

How do you have this set up? Does it integrate with some other home audio control system you have, or do you have an Echo plugged into each space and the music plays directly off them? Is there a way to play your own mp3 collection instead of streaming services?

It integrates with my Crestron control system, which controls the entire house. Alexa also integrates nicely with Sonos and Heos wireless speaker systems, letting you dictate music and location(s).

I didn't think I'd be a big user, nor did my wife. Since getting a Pixel phone, I find I use it quite a bit to conduct complex search queries as quickly as possible.

So much faster to speak it out now that their recognition is so damn accurate.

My wife fought me on it until I noticed she too was using Siri more, although the UX with Siri is not as great as Google's Assistant IMHO.

Because I don't want to take the phones everywhere with me when I am at home?

Great now the echo will record all video as well and "anonymize" it and use it to improve their systems. This class of devices are the most puzzling to me. People know their value proposition is to record everything but then keep buying them. I keep waiting for the day when the scales tip in favor of privacy but that never happens.

Actually, people don't know that. The Echo doesn't "record everything", and I'd challenge you to provide any evidence that it does.

True/false: Can Amazon technically enable it to record without the user's knowledge?

What if a government compelled them to activate this to spy on someone?

Ability to create a new (creepy and likely illegal) feature is not the same thing as it being the Echo's "value prop"...

You know that Amazon has testified in court that this isn't the case right?


So if you have any evidence to back up your claim you should post it and claim your 5 minutes of celebrity.

I doubt the typical user of Internet(-enabled) services has any idea how much is recorded about them, or what it's used for. They probably intuitively think that recording and retaining these sorts of things on such a scale and for such purposes is already illegal.

*at least, they do not record all the time...for now.

Can you please explain a bit more about your privacy concern ? Are you implying that Amazon might 1. Inadvertently leak these videos 2. Succumb to a massive breach that will expose all these videos. 3. Use the private data as a signal to sell more stuff.

I only ask this because, if there is some company that genuinely cares about their customers, it's Amazon but from personal and anecdotal experience.

If they are going to enable calling, I sincerely hope they learn from the current phone spam and email spam mess and don't let just anyone call you at any time.

Ideally, you could authorize people to call you by giving each person/entity a different token that authorizes them to call you. Then if that person/entity sells the token to 3rd parties, you not only know who sold you out, but also you have the ability to revoke that token easily.

Amazon is killing it in IoT/Smart Home. However, IMHO, they are making a bit of mistake by not allowing developers to monetize their platform (at least the last time I checked). There were also certain device functions that apps could not utilize (e.g. programmatically mute and unmute). I suspect they'll have a wall garden approach to their new Echo devices too ... if this was open, they'd win it all (again, just my opinion).

Amazon subsidizes hardware by collecting information on the users, so they can't open their hardware. It's ironic because, like uBlock on Chrome, only a small percentage would change the hardware/OS anyway -- and those are the people who could try radical experiments and show Amazon what works.

Hopefully Google, Samsung or Microsoft(?!) will sell open hardware/firmware that isn't subsidized by collecting information.

Amazon is basically following the CueCat strategy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CueCat#Failure

> The company's response to these hacks was to assert that users did not own the devices and had no right to modify or reverse engineer them. Threats of legal action against the hackers swiftly brought on more controversy and criticism.

Sources? Those are big claims to make.

Software mute/unmute has too much of a potential to be abused by 3rd parties in my opinion.

For your other comment, what kind of command-response skill could be monetized? Surely for the majority of use cases, the Alexa skill should remain free with your purchased/subscribed product on the other side? E.g. the "skill" to read NPR should always be free, but NPR is still monetized via subscription or commercials.

The only example that jumps out at me would be Amazon Echo Games, something like text-based adventures built for voice. Otherwise, skills themselves are just a gateway to an already monetized service, no?

This is not what you're taking about because it is not the Echo hardware, but I think Amazon lets hardware manufacturers access Alexa API from their devices, and those hardware makers can charge whatever they want (and could put whatever type of "app store" or "hackability" into their hardware, all of which could call the Alexa voice API: https://developer.amazon.com/alexa-voice-service

The main thing that annoys me about Echo is that the knowledge graph is so poor. I can only choose from a limited amount of things to ask the damn thing, WikiPedia or start installing 3rd party skills.

I wish I could install OK Google on Echo.

Edit - looks like you can, with a custom skill - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR-LVPMU7F4

Looks like something out of Robocop or Total Recall. I'm not sure if I'm excited or terrified! Let's say both.

I honestly think that with the use cases the Echo Show would be much more useful had the static structure has a rotating base, which allows the Echo Show to rotate to the source of voice command (disable-able via setting for privacy concern). That would allow ultimate versatile use for its screen to offer the same hands-free experience.

This was the direction I expected Apple to take prior to Jobs passing. It seemed the rumored Apple TV would combine Siri with traditional television. Apple faces serious threats across the entertainment spectrum, from content to device.

Everyone speculating on Apple acquisitions should be considering a Sony or LG buyout. I own stock in neither.

Interesting choice going with an x86 chip. This could potentially be a hackers dream if you got Linux running on it.

It's probably running their fire os.

AFAIK FireOS is ARM only and a brief look on wiki says all the other devices (FireTV, Echo, Echo Dot, etc) are all ARM.

Either way, I'd imagine you would want to wipe it completely. Can't wait for the iFixit teardown.

FireOS is just Android with a UI skin and some Google services ripped out. I'd be surprised if an x86 fork wasn't always maintained, if for nothing else than ease of debugging!

FireOS is based on Android which definitely runs on x86

Why would you wanna have a electronic spy at home is beyond me.

Because I want a Jarvis, and this is the closest thing.

If you can think of a way to have an artificial assistant of that class without being tied in to a corporation, I'm all ears.

Do you turn off your cell phone and computers at home? Even if you do, most people don't. And won't.

It would be nice to control FireTV with an Echo. Still waiting.

Brushed aluminum or some other color scheme would look better. Plastic black matte looks cheap and meh.

Eventually, with the internet of things, there will need to be a "home brain" type device to control all of the devices in your house. The company that holds that position of controlling what devices can work with others will have a lot of market power.

Love the concept of the Echo, however i don't see too much value in a screen, as for most tasks you'd need that for it's usually worth the effort to pull out the phone since you are also not bound to a specific location.

I developed this same thing 6 months ago. Setup and commands are a bit cumbersome due to being 3rd party but all you need is an Echo device and Android device with the Echo Sidekick app. Does everything the Show does except voice calls but you can send messages through Echo devices to other devices with the SideKick app. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.renovotech...

This is more like an iPad with a better Siri. I guess talking to parents, watching child cams are the target audience for this. A device which sits in living room or bed room need not show me CNN in there.

I think it's more like an iPad with a better microphone (well, 7 or 8 actually). When Siri can hear you clearly, it's much better at most tasks in my experience. The problem is often that it can't hear you clearly...

why should a Fire tablet paired with speakers not be able to do this?

I am not against any category of products, but as a person who likes to own and manage fewer devices, I like my devices to be versatile.

What does a Sonos user do when he has already deployed a dozen Sonos speakers throughout his house? Will there ever be a microphone-only Echo device that can link into a Sonos system?

Well, Sonos is actively working on Alexa integration (actually, integration with any voice-controlled assistant): https://www.cnet.com/news/sonos-demonstrates-amazon-alexa-co...

In the meantime, you can connect an Echo Dot to a Play:5 (or any other Sonos speaker that has a line-in): http://www.sam-mallery.com/2016/12/5-tips-for-using-amazon-e...

> If you want to limit your interaction with Alexa, simply turn the mic/camera button off.

Of course, that button is a handy indicator for Amazon to know when to record stuff :)

Now they're much closer to solving 'smart home assistant' online shopping. Communication only via voice results in two uncomfortable options: either you're blindly believing that you'll get best price/option ("order xyz") or you may stuck in very slow listening of options (try to read search result list). That barrier will be stepped over with this little screen enhancing shopping experience, if needed.

This is exciting for healthcare use-cases. Simple stuff like video clinician checkups or remote monitoring such as tracking and recording physical therapy progress.

They used the same picture of Dad seeing his grandchild like 3 times, they need to push out different pics.

Now introducing Amazon Stock Photos!

(I had to search to make sure this didn't already exist, and I'm surprised it doesn't.)

Can I use the Amazon Echo to lead an imaginary life?

"Show me pictures of my family" (stock photos)

"Show me my vacation photos" (synthesizes a photo of me at the grand canyon with my waifu)

I've proposed this for social media for a long time. Rich and famous people have handlers run their social media to meet their goals. I think it fair for poorer people to experience the same relaxation and freedom. Why can't I hire a cloud powered bot to manage my kids social media presence to get him into an ivy "Hey everybody, like my pix of me doing voluntourism in some 3rd world country where I'm photoshopped into a pix of a school being constructed." "How do you do, fellow kids, I am very concerned today about (insert randomly selected progressive cause)".

It wouldn't be a social problem as legacy social media is so yesterday, only auntie and grandma still use facebook and corporations and bots are now the majority users. You just know grandma is going to get into the weirdest flamewar ever on myspace or ICQ or twitter with your social media bot avatar.

I think it would be useful to have a bot run my linkedin for me. A form letter to respond to recruiter form letters. Every week it goes to Google Trends, runs a query on "computer language" to find the trendy framework of the week, and ta da I am now an expert on linked-in for "computer graphics programs in c language with output" "what does pdf mean in computer language" "computer in hindi language" and sure you laugh today, but normies (like HR gatekeepers) google for this kind of stuff all the time, and if my bot's effort posting gets me jobs you're not getting, well, we'll see who gets the last laugh ...

"Alexa, show me reasons why fenwick67's waifu is shit and my waifu is best girl."

4chan by voice. What could go wrong?

Love that Amazon is throwing a lot of options out there.

Only wish the outer shell on this one looked a bit nicer / slicker.

Really want an "Alexa" type replacement for smoke detectors. Location seems perfect for speakers / music in a house.

Scary to think that privacy for average consumer is basically dead.

Looks like a mini tablet? Why cannot tablet be used for the same purpose? Perhaps audio capability?

I thought the exact same thing. It basically looks like a tablet with really good speakers that runs "skills" as opposed to "apps." I have no doubt that Amazon will be able to sell a ton of these but I'm clearly not the demographic. Though, it does make me wonder, where is the ceiling for personal assistant features? At what point does Amazon saturate its own market?

Better audio and microphone capability.

If you can place multiple of these in a house and use them all together as an a/v intercom system, that'd be by a far killer feature. E.g. you can talk to your child who's in the basement or talk to coworker at another cubicle

It’s amazing how much of a difference a marketing video makes. This and the Echo Look are not at all that dissimilar, yet one appears to be friendly and essential, while the other is creepy as hell.

The video calling capability seems especially neat - I wonder if they will interoperate with Facetime, Google Duo/Hangouts, and other video calling protocols. It will make our lives so much easier.

If anything, it's looking like Alexa might be the only one that will work across the 3.

You can install hangouts duo on IOS, but likely not on alexa. You can install Alexa on Android (not through google play). You can't install facetime on Alexa or Android.


Companies with closed platforms do have a track record of collaborating and integrating.

However, if you are making a case for standards in this space - I agree.

From a user's perspective, I think there are too many Echoes. It makes it hard to decide which to get, especially for those who can only afford (or want to deal with) one. Too much fractioning.

Really? Ignoring Echo Look (which is invite only and for fashion) there will now be three: 1. Echo Show $230 2. Echo $170 3. Echo Dot $50

These three are very different in terms of hardware and price.

Are they just "announcing" these devices by putting them up for sale? It feels like we need an Echo keynote to learn about their direction and they could get a lot more hype that way.

Why? I think a company that sells products can just use their website, the #12 most visited website on the planet to announce it. The Steve Jobs style keynote is so gauche now, even Apple seems sort of clunky doing it. You can't do the same magic trick over and over and expect people to be into it.

Brushed aluminum would look nicer. Plastic black matte is bleh.

I could see the use in the kitchen as ask alexa to look up recipes or turn the page while my hands are greasy or covered in flour.

this functionality will probably need a custom firmware tho.

IMO Amazon should focus on enabling and assisting the development of more skills and integrations for echo devices before pushing out newer models or adding features.

Their demo video is cringe-worthy. I understand that you're also marketing to non-technical folks, but it's like a film from grade school.

Looks great. But how about that mural?? The main takeaway I had from that video is I need to pick up sponge painting in my kid's rooms.

What is Amazon's long term strategy with all these devices with the main feature still being voice?

Behavioral data. The more they know about you, the more they can accurately target products/services/etc at you.

My honestly non-sarcastic guess is the dash button form factor will merge with Alexa resulting in something like disposable fashionable ST:TNG communicator buttons.

I'm not kidding at all, although I can sympathize this might seem a touch ridiculous. Billions were made off the "its kinda like a tricoder or a ST:TOS communicator but its mostly a phone". Its highly likely a lot of money will be made selling each member of the general populace a handful of ST:TNG communicator buttons in or around 2030. Schools will spare no expense to make sure each kid has one "for security and learning purposes only of course". Your music service will be part of the communicator badge ecosystem or it won't exist much longer, and so on.

Collecting video data for future use.

preventing future crimes

Perfect for viewing and browsing recipes and recipe videos without having to touch the screen.

I have to ask why these things aren't gesture activated ...

Kinda merging tablet/webcam + alarm clock usage. Not bad.

So this is kind of a tablet, but with voice as main UI

Not only can you watch it - it watches you!

A better alternate to Sony dash which got abandoned

Yes - my Dash finally died last year, which I mourned. This looks like the next gen.


This is similar to a tablet kept in my room.

iPhone for grandparents? or Echo for grandparents.

For me this product makes sense for elderly in the digital age to keep them connected.

"Alexa, submit this comment to HN"

It works! :D

so amazon is trying to corner the market of tablets-junior-cant-take-to-the-restroom market?

"Alexa, show me the kids' room."

Am I the only one that's creeped up by that?

It's a bit creepy, but we do already sell network enabled baby monitors that do the same thing minus voice commands. Clearly a few have been sold as they were what were blamed for the Dyn DDOS

"Honey, I'm going to go check on the kids..."

Well, that just got creepy. As if security wasn't an issue before.

the video seems like a parody

“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug into your wire whenever they wanted to.”

-Orwell, 1984

The joke's on us. Not even Orwell thought people would be willing to pay for that kind of technology. He thought government would have to force people to get it into their homes.

See the forward to Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death":

> "But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another--slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

> "What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley re marked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."


> > there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Max Headroom, episode ABC.1.3 "Body Bank"

    Paula: " ...what's that?"
    Blank Reg: "It's a book!"
    Paula: "Well, what's that?"
    Blank Reg: "It's a non-volatile storage medium.
                It's very rare. You should have one."
    Paula: "Stuff it!"

That show was way ahead of its time.

// Blank is beautiful!

Huxley though... I don't think it's really about whether Orwell was right or Huxley, I think they both are.

Negative reinforcement is possible once its popular enough and has a large enough installed base to make not having one a deviation from the norm, a warning signal. Like not having a TV or facebook account today.

The way it'll be rolled out to achieve that large enough installed base to become normalcy will be strictly positive enforcement.

All carrots to start out because there's too much legacy propaganda in western dead white male culture that no one reads anymore. After the tipping point is reached, then the carrots get put away and the sticks come out.

Depends... If the people knew they had the ability to use this technology for making personal calls or checking the latest weather, sports, etc, then I'd actually believe people would be willing to pay for it.

Perhaps the "baby cam" feature is a less grim way of indicating that caregivers can use this for surveillance of cognitively declining parents. "Telescreens, not just for the thought police anymore!"

My first thought of the "rejectable" call was that this would be a way to communicate with my declining grandmother who would neither understand the buttons or be able to muster a "accept call alexa"

"And but so why the abrupt consumer retreat back to good old voice-only telephoning?

The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, (3) a certain queer kind of self- obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech."

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest


We heard you the first 10 times.

Every time a new Echo is released, the warnings go out. If you don't want one, don't get one.

In the meantime, the cellphone that you carry with you everywhere will report your location, voice, etc much more effectively.

Here's a 2 year old Echo story, maybe we can recycle some of the comments?


Kneejerk Orwell quote referencing minor advance to existing technology: check.

Yeah Orwell was all about heavy handed government oppression, not willing consumer behavior. This is more Huxley (check another box, the Huxley vs Orwell comparison).

At any rate, the quote would be better served when discussing Snowden style revelations, because we know for a fact that people in the US security apparatus could (and did) abuse their ability to spy on the internet behavior of everyday American citizens without due process.

Here is a crazy idea: What didn't Amazon make this its own Nintendo Switch? A stand with a detachable tablet? Won't this be even better?

Because then it would be an entirely different product.

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