Hello Echo Hello

Echo is an interactive internet stereo that has access to your Amazon music cloud. The sound quality is quite good. It has other features that are accessible by voice, and these other features is where the future of third party developers are pivotal to its future.

Amazon has learned well from Apple. The package and design on the product is excellent. The packaging displays the product well, and presents it in an Apple-like manner. One obvious difference is that Amazon uses a black theme while Apple a white one.

Strangely Echo wants to be called “Alexa” on the voice commands. But this can be changed. The system is good, but could be better. I tis clearly a beta product, yet with some unique features namely being dependent on voice interaction. It takes some time to get use to using voice instead of gestures. It often seems to get lost when doing very simple things, like playing music. The feedback loop for a voice-only device can be challenging to say the least. There is the awkward moments using the device. Without visual or tactile feedback, you are often left to wonder if the system heard you, and what is it doing.

Echo

There are the invisibly simple moments too, when you realize the designers put some serious thought behind the system. For when I asked Alexa the time, I realized I never set the timezone. Yet, Echo knew the time in the proper timezone. Often using a product, the moments were it is simple are overlooked. Only appreciated when we have to deal with another product not so easy to user.

The product setup is not well document. You really need to download the application to configure the device. It is through its application that it joins the local network. Once you have joined it to your network, you can some use out of it. In order to connect to the device, the phone application joins the local wifi network generated by the device. The device then is keyed and the user configures it to join the wifi network. This is the same as for SkyBell install.

In the end, the first version of Echo is truly a beta product. Amazon has been smart to add a customer feedback loop. Yet, it enters the release with no 3rd party development tools. Just a signup sheet for developers to get involved. Part of it leaves you with a feeling that it is looking for developers to find that special something that a voice active interface can do. Much like what the app store and development tools did for phone apps.

In Summary, this is a device for the Cult of Amazon. This cult is considerably less expensive than the Apple one. It also built and presented well. The sound is good, and the interface well developed. It marks a truly Amazon product. All that is left is for independent developers to make it integrate more with its environment and its users.

Looking at Echo as an Investor

Amazon Echo places Amazon a step closer to competing with Apple. Echo may not seem like a competitor to Apple, for Apple has nothing like it as a standalone device. While Apple tries to move towards more wearable systems, Amazon continues to push towards more home oriented systems. But they are both competing for the content that you use. Echo has a side effect when it comes to investors comparing Amazon to Google. That Amazon not only continues to try to innovate, but its delivers clear directions into driving profit from those innovations.

With the purchase of Echo, there is a need for the users to provide it content. Just as it is awkward to purchase from Amazon to play from iTunes, the truth can now be said that it is awkward to purchase from Apple to play on Echo. There is an excellent export program to migrate from iTunes to Amazon Music. But it is still a two step process when purchasing.

The battle for content is clear when you first start playing songs on Echo. Unless you are satisfied with a 250 song playlist, you will need to activate Amazon Music Cloud. Being a hardcore Apple iTunes user, the first thought was about the collection of music that I already have with iTunes. Amazon has created an exporter that will transfer system music to the Amazon cloud. This feature is more robust than the iTunes import feature and gives, those willing to try Amazon, a panfry means to convert.

The Amazon Music cloud is not free and requires a $24.99/year payment. This is the exact amount for the Apple version, iMatch. And here is where the real battle between these two and Google is being played. Clearly Amazon Fire/Music and Apple iTV/iTunes are fighting for content. With a lack of a truly integrated devices, Google’s Play option seems lost with as much future as the MicroSoft phone.

What of the backend? Amazon Cloud versus Apple iCloud. Here Amazon owns this, just as Apple owns the smart phone. Most online storage is actually Amazon AWS. This includes both Apple’s own iCloud and also the popular Dropbox. Google is trying to enter this space, but it has an uphill battle. Its not just a question of buying and racking systems, Google also needs to focus on how to interface to its cloud storage.

From a Stock Perspective, the question is not really who is the leader in content, but who are the infrastructure owners. Here, things are interesting. For it is Google to whom Amazon’s Echo truly hurts. Amazon has pushed out three devices (Tablet, Phone and Echo), that leverage physical and cloud infrastructure. If these devices gain ground, then Amazon can be seen not as a copier of Apple but as a true innovator. It also has a strong mix of owning the infrastructure and having tools on the edge that can use them. This makes their stock’s price to earrings ration acceptable.

The final word is that Echo marks the the first non-Apple like product from Amazon.

Comments

  1. Yes. Do not rename it to the one alternative it gives you – “Amazon”. If you do, then be prepared for it to key up every time you mention Amazon or tell someone its from Amazon or that it’s an Amazon Echo, heh.. Alex is something that normally doesn’t come up in a conversation in most places. If it does, then yeah, it’ll kind of suck using either name. Hopefully they will add more names in the future, lol.

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