Amazon Echo

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Amazon Echo
AmazonEchoLogo.png
Amazon Echo.jpg
The first-generation Amazon Echo
DeveloperAmazon
ManufacturerAmazon
TypeSmart speaker
Release dateNovember 6, 2014
Operating systemFire OS
InputVoice commands
WebsiteAmazon Echo (US)
Amazon Echo (UK)
Amazon Echo (Germany)
Amazon Echo (India)

Amazon Echo (shortened as "Echo", and known colloquially as "Alexa") is a brand of smart speakers developed by Amazon. Echo devices connect to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which responds to the names "Alexa", "Echo", or "Computer". Users may change this "wake word" to "Amazon", "Echo" or "Computer".[1][2] The device supports voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real-time information. It can also control several smart devices acting as a home automation hub.

According to confirmed reports, Amazon started developing Echo devices inside its Lab126 offices in Silicon Valley and in Cambridge, Massachusetts as early as 2010. The device represented one of Amazon's first attempts to expand its device portfolio beyond the Kindle e-reader.[3] The Echo featured prominently in Amazon's first-ever Super Bowl broadcast television advertisement in 2016.[4]

Amazon initially limited the first-generation Echo to Amazon Prime members or by invitation, but it became widely available in the United States on June 23, 2015.[5] The press speculated that it would make its Canadian debut in mid-to-late 2016, after Amazon posted job listings for developers for Alexa and co-hosted a hackathon in Toronto.[6] The Echo became available in the United Kingdom on 28 September 2016.[7][8] Additionally, the Alexa voice service is available to be added to other devices, and Amazon encourages other companies' devices and services to connect to it.[9]

Features[edit]

Overview of operation[edit]

In the default mode, the device continuously listens to all speech, monitoring for the wake word to be spoken, which is primarily set up as "Alexa" (derived from Alexa Internet, the Amazon-owned Internet indexing company). Echo's microphones can be manually disabled by pressing a mute button to turn off the audio processing circuit.[3]

Echo devices require a wireless Internet connection in order to work. Echo's voice recognition capability is based on Amazon Web Services and the voice platform Amazon acquired from Yap,[10] Evi, and IVONA[11] (a Polish-based specialist in voice technologies used in the Kindle Fire).[12]

The smart speakers perform well with a "good" (low-latency) Internet connection, which minimizes processing time due to minimal communication round trips, streaming responses and geo-distributed service endpoints. While the application is free, an Amazon account is required, and setup is not possible without one.

Available services[edit]

Echo devices offer weather from AccuWeather and news from a variety of sources, including local radio stations, BBC, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn.[13] Echo can play music from the owner's Amazon Music accounts[14] and has built-in support for other streaming music services like iHeartRadio, Pandora, Sirius XM, and Spotify (with Apple Music support coming before the end of 2018)[15], among others,[16] and has support for IFTTT and Nest thermostats.[17] Echo can also play music from non-compatible music streaming services such as Google Play Music from a phone or tablet via Bluetooth. Echo maintains voice-controlled alarms, timers, shopping and to-do lists and can access Wikipedia articles. Echo will respond to questions about items in one's Google Calendar. It also integrates with Yonomi,[18] Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink.[19][20] Additionally, integration with the Echo is in the works for Countertop by Orange Chef, Sonos,[21] Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, MARA, and Mojio.[22] Questions like "Who is Kim Kardashian?" are answered by reading the first few lines of the corresponding Wikipedia article.[23]

Echo devices also have access to "skills" built with the Alexa Skills Kit. These are third-party-developed voice applications that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). Examples of skills include the ability to play music, answer general questions, set an alarm, order a pizza, get an Uber ridesharing car, and more. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user. The Alexa Skills Kit is a collection of self-service application programming interfaces (API), tools, documentation and code samples that make it fast and easy for any developer to add skills to Alexa. Developers can also use the "Smart Home Skill API",[24] a new addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, to easily teach Alexa how to control cloud-controlled lighting and thermostat devices. All of the code runs in the cloud — nothing is on any user device. A developer can follow tutorials to learn how to quickly build voice-response capability for their new and existing applications.[25]

In November 2018, a major new feature was launched that will allow users to make Skype calls. Every past and present Echo device will be able to dial a number via Skype. Echos with display will offer full video Skype capability.[26]

Voice system[edit]

The devices have natural lifelike voices resulting from speech-unit technology.[27][additional citation(s) needed] High speech accuracy is achieved through sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) algorithms built into the Echo's text-to-speech (TTS) engine.[citation needed]

Software updates[edit]

As with all Alexa devices, the functionality of Echo smart speakers periodically evolves as Amazon releases new software for it. Most new releases fix bugs in addition to including enhanced functionality. New releases are pushed to the devices on a gradual basis so it may take several days to a week or more for a particular device to be updated. Because much of Echo's intelligence lies in the cloud, significant functional enhancements can be made to Echo without updating the software version it is running. For example, in April 2015, the Echo added the ability to give live sports scores without updating the software version running on the device.[28]

Variants[edit]

Echo[edit]

Amazon Echo (first generation)
Amazon Echo unpacked (15978606333).jpg
Amazon Echo unpacked, January 2015
Release date
  • November 6, 2014 (2014-11-06) (Amazon Prime and invited members)
  • June 23, 2015 (2015-06-23) (released in the U.S.)
  • September 28, 2016 (2016-09-28) (released in the U.K.)
  • October 26, 2016 (2016-10-26) (released in Germany)
Introductory priceUS$179.99
GB£149.99
EUR€179.99
ConnectivityWi-Fi and Bluetooth
WebsiteAmazon Echo (US)
Amazon Echo (UK)
Amazon Echo (Germany)
Amazon Echo (second generation)
Release date
  • October 31, 2017 (2017-10-31) (released in the U.S.)
Introductory priceUS$99.99
ConnectivityWi-Fi and Bluetooth
WebsiteAmazon Echo (US)
Amazon Echo (UK)
Amazon Echo (Germany)
Amazon Echo (India)
Amazon Echo (Canada)

The first-generation Amazon Echo consists of a 9.25 inch (23.5 cm) tall cylinder speaker with a seven-piece microphone array.[3] The Echo hardware complement includes a Texas Instruments DM3725 ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 256MB of LPDDR1 RAM and 4GB of storage space.[29] As of July 2017, the first-generation Echo maintained an 83% score on GearCaliber, a review aggregator.

Although the Echo is intended to be voice-controlled at the unit, a microphone-enabled remote control similar to the one bundled with the Amazon Fire TV is available for purchase. An action button on top of the unit is provided for user setup in a new location, and the mute button allows the microphones to be turned off.[30] The top half-inch of the unit rotates to increase or decrease the speaker volume. The Echo must be plugged in to operate since it has no internal battery.[31]

Echo provides dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices.[32]

Limited editions[edit]

As part of a holiday promotion, Seattle Seahawks player Marshawn Lynch drove the Treasure Truck around Seattle in December 2016 selling a limited-edition beast-mode Echo with a custom skin.[33] The beast-mode version was a first-generation Echo that responded to a user's commands with Marshawn Lynch's voice, instead of the Alexa voice.[34]

In November 2017, a Product Red version of the second-generation Echo was announced as a limited edition item.[35]

Another special version of Echo is the Alexa Super Skills Collectible edition, which was given to select Amazon Alexa developers who published five skills between July 22 and October 30, 2017. This special variant comes with a white mask, a blue cape, and a blue belt.[citation needed]

Availability[edit]

As of November 2018, the Echo is available in 39 countries.

Echo Dot[edit]

The black Amazon Echo Dot (second generation) sitting idle on a wood surface

In March 2016, Amazon unveiled the original Amazon Echo Dot,[36] which is a hockey puck-sized version of the Echo designed to be connected to external speakers due to the size of the onboard speakers, or to be used in rooms such as the bedroom as an alternative to the full-sized Echo. Beyond these distinctions, the Amazon Echo Dot possesses the same functions as the original Amazon Echo.[37]

External third-party portable batteries[38] are available for the Dot.

The second generation of the Amazon Echo Dot became available on October 20, 2016. It is priced lower, has improved voice recognition, and is available in black, grey and white. The Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) technology allows several Echo and Dot units to work together so that only one device answers the request.[citation needed] As of November 2017, the Echo Dot maintained a 78% score on GearCaliber, based on 23 reviews.[39]

On August 18, 2017, an Amazon promotion allowed Amazon Prime customers to receive a 100% price reduction on the Echo Dot (from $49.99 to $0.00). Amazon never commented on the promotion or gave any indication of how many Dots were given away.[40]

In September 2018, an updated Echo Dot was unveiled with a fabric covering, similar to the second-generation Echo.[41]

Amazon Tap[edit]

The Amazon Tap

The Amazon Tap is a smaller portable version of the Echo.[42] The Tap can do the same things as the Echo; however, as it is battery-powered, it is also portable.[43] Initially, the user had to press an activation button on the front of the Tap to speak commands. However, a February 2017 software update allows the option of activating the Tap with an activation word, just like the Echo and the Dot.[44]

Echo Look[edit]

In April 2017, the Amazon Echo Look was introduced as a camera with Alexa built-in, for US$20 more than the first-generation Echo.[45] The device can provide artificial intelligence outfit recommendations, take photos, and record videos; in addition to the features available on the Echo.[46] It offers Amazon Alexa's key feature plus a camera to take full-length photos and 360-degree videos with built-in AI for fashion advice.[47][48] As a consumer product, it helps catalog your outfits and rates your look based on "machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists.[49]

The device was initially only available for purchase by invitation-only in the U.S.[50] However, it became generally available in June 2018.[51]

Echo Show[edit]

The Amazon Echo Show

In May 2017, Amazon introduced the Echo Show, which features a tactile 7-inch liquid-crystal display screen that can be used for playing media, making video calls (5 MP front camera), and other features.[52] The Echo Show was offered for purchase at a price of $229.99 on June 28, 2017 and was initially only available in the U.S.[53]

A second generation of the Echo Show was unveiled at an Alexa-themed product event by Amazon on September 20, 2018 for release the following month.[54] The new device has a 10-inch touchscreen, improved speakers, and mesh casing.[55]

Echo Spot[edit]

The Amazon Echo Spot

On 27 September 2017, Amazon launched the Echo Spot, a hemispherical device that has the same functions as an Echo Show.[56] The device has a 2.5-inch circular screen, and looks like an alarm clock. The device sells for $129.99.[57]

Echo Plus[edit]

On 27 September 2017, Amazon announced the Echo Plus, which released on 31 October 2017. It shares design similarities with the first-generation Echo, but also doubles as a smart home hub, connecting to most common wireless protocols to control connected smart devices within a home.[58] It incorporates 7 second-generation far field microphones and noise cancellation, while also supporting Dolby Sound.

In September 2018, a second-generation Echo Plus was released. The new version has a fabric covering and includes an embedded temperature sensor.[59]

Echo Auto[edit]

At an Alexa-themed product launch event in September 2018, Amazon announced an Echo device designed for cars.[60] The device will connect with the user's smartphone over Bluetooth and offer driving direction, in addition to other Alexa functionality.[61] Echo Auto will be available as an invite-only product near the end of 2018.[62]

Echo Input[edit]

The Echo Input is an Alexa input device with no on-board speakers.[63] It must be connected to external speakers for audio output.

Echo Link and Link Amp[edit]

The Echo Link is a higher-end version of the Echo Input, with additional output ports and a volume knob.[64] The Echo Link Amp has the same controls of the Link, but with an amplifier.

Accessories[edit]

Along with the second-generation Echo, Amazon announced two new accessories. The Echo Buttons can be used while playing games on Echo devices, such as Jeopardy!.[65] The Echo Connect is a small adapter that plugs into any Echo and a home phone line, allowing the Echo to make voice calls through your home phone number.[66]

In September 2018, Amazon announced the Echo Sub, a subwoofer that connects to other Echo speakers, and the Echo Wall Clock, which can display how much time is remaining on timers set with an Echo device.[67]

Privacy concerns[edit]

There are concerns about the access Echo has to private conversations in the home, or other non-verbal indications that can identify who is present in the home and who is not—based on audible cues such as footstep-cadence or radio/television programming.[68][69] Amazon responds to these concerns by stating that Echo only streams recordings from the user's home when the "wake word" activates the device, though the device is technically capable of streaming voice recordings at all times, and in fact will always be listening to detect if a user has uttered the word.

Echo uses past voice recordings the user has sent to the cloud service to improve response to future questions the user may pose. To address privacy concerns, the user can delete voice recordings that are currently associated with the user's account, but doing so may degrade the user's experience using voice search. To delete these recordings, the user can visit the Manage My Device page on Amazon.com or contact Amazon customer service.

Echo uses an address set in the Alexa companion app when it needs a location.[70] Amazon and third-party apps and websites use location information to provide location-based services and store this information to provide voice services, the Maps app, Find Your Device, and to monitor the performance and accuracy of location services. For example, Echo voice services use the user's location to respond to the user's requests for nearby restaurants or stores. Similarly, Echo uses the user's location to process the user's mapping-related requests and improve the Maps experience. All information collected is subject to the Amazon.com Privacy Notice.[71]

Amazon retains digital recordings of users' audio spoken after the "wake up word", and while the audio recordings are subject to demands by law enforcement, government agents, and other entities via subpoena, Amazon publishes some information about the warrants it receives, the subpoenas it receives, and some of the warrant-less demands it receives, allowing customers some indication as to the percentage of illegal demands for customer information it receives.[72]

Echo as criminal evidence[edit]

During the course of the investigation into the November 22, 2015 death of Victor Collins in the home of James Andrew Bates in Bentonville, Arkansas, police sought the data stored on the Amazon Echo on the premises as evidence, but were refused by Amazon.[73][74] The conflict was resolved when Bates consented to the release of his personal information that was held by Amazon.[75][76]

Limitations[edit]

Purchasing merchandise in the categories of apparel, shoes, jewelry, and watches is not available.[77] In addition, AmazonFresh, Amazon Prime Pantry, Prime Now, or Add-On items are not supported by Alexa's ordering function,[78] while the shopping list function allows no more than one item to be added at a time.[79]

Echo has provided inconsistent responses when asked common questions to which users would expect better answers. Echo sometimes confuses certain homophones — words that sound the same, but have different meanings, such as where/wear/ware.[80]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]