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Amazon Echo Show (amazon.com)
390 points by metaedge on May 9, 2017 | hide | past | 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.

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