Amazon Echo was previously only available to those who were invited to test it out, but Amazon is now allowing anyone to purchase the digital assistant for use in their home.
Anyone living in the US can now order the digital speaker and have it delivered to them from 14th July. Echo was first launched in November and since then has been used by a limited number of users, but Amazon says that improvements have been made since the device was first released.
The Amazon Echo can control home hardware and furniture such as lamps as well as stream music, and has had both positive and negative reviews since it was revealed. On the Amazon website the device has a 4.5 star out of 5 rating, created by people that were selected to take part in the early release program.
Amazon had originally set its prices high and offered different options for people with Amazon Prime accounts, but the new price has been revealed at $179.99 for the digital assistant. The Echo is powered by Alexa, software which can speak to users and also share information that it has learned with other Echo units by connecting to the cloud. Amazon has said that a number of improvements have been made to Alexa since its release, such as support for audiobooks and Pandora along with support for connected home products from makers like Belkin and Philips.
The Echo has been touted as a home version of Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. Users can ask the tall black device a question and they will receive an answer, whether they wish to know what the days weather will be like or what the traffic will be like on the last leg of their trip. Users can also order products online as well as connect to cloud services like Google. In addition, the speaker can play music from a users Amazon library or the library available to Prime members.
Users have said that the Amazon Echo takes around five minutes to set up and connect to their wifi network. The device has seven speakers and users choose either ‘Amazon’ or ‘Alexa’ as the ‘wake word’ which will prompt the Echo to be ready and listening for commands. Because the device is able to integrate with services like Google calendar and If, users can set up a variety of commands that allow the device to do combinations of useful things. The Amazon Echo app also offers a way to see things that have been added to shopping lists or to do lists. While the Echo was originally created with Alexa to be a virtual personal assistant, the new support for connected home products makes it a viable hub to allow people to control everything from their lighting to gadgets connected to smart plugs.
Amazon has also announced that it is making Alexa available for developers to build into third party products. This will be using the Amazon Voice Service (AVS) as well as the Alexa Skills Kit which is a number of tools able that can create additional features for the Echo and Alexa. In order to get the idea off the ground, Amazon has created the Alexa Fund which will offer $100m in investments to startups and companies which hope to integrate Alexa into their products. Seven startups have been invested in so far, including a connected car company and a company which will allow users to secure their homes using a single voice command.
With the announcement that Alexa will be open to development and that the Echo can now be bought by anyone, Amazon is positioning itself out of the ecommerce market and into the world of the connected home. The device and software is likely to improve with time as there will be more Echo users and so more information will be uploaded to the cloud to be shared by Alexa. There has been speculation that Amazon will try to further link the Echo with its online marketplace, but there is potential for the Alexa software to be used in other devices and for other purposes beyond the Echo device. While the Echo is still the only device that uses the software, it provides a useful service for the home at a relatively inexpensive price.