To put it simply, the Amazon Echo is a bluetooth speaker and voice-activated assistant. First unveiled in 2014, the device connects to WiFi and responds to prompts after you verbally acknowledge "Alexa" (who controls the hub). It's like talking with Siri for your iPhone, but you don't have to hold your phone up in front of your face. Instead, the Echo has "far field" range - up to 20-25 feet - so that it can hear you say a command from across the room.
This past week, Alexa got some new sisters-in-tech beyond the initial Echo. The Tap is a re-chargeable portable version of the Echo. It has all the same features but you can take it on the go, unlike its older Echo sister, and connect it to the WiFi on your phone. One key difference is that it requires a literal tap to activate the voice recognition.
The other new sister is the shorter Echo Dot, which is a hockey puck sized version of the Echo that can also connect to your speakers. It connects through bluetooth or a cable and allows your speaker system to amplify the sounds transmitting from the device. A big draw for some people about the Echo Dot is that they can connect it to their existing speakers. The Alexa can update your stereo system with all its connected-tech capabilities.
The Alexa family has tons of great features. What we love most of all is how the devices can connect to purchase things instantly from your Amazon account. This will take impulse shopping to a whole new level, so think before you speak (or buy). Amazon sure understands capitalism - you can even pay with your credit card now, too.
Alexa can also play music (through Prime and other third party vendors like Spotify or Pandora), answer questions ("How Old is Bernie Sanders?"), tell you what upcoming appointments you have through Google Calendar, or check the weather. Other seamless third party integrations that have come along are ordering rides from Uber or pizza from Domino's.
We're excited about voice as a control method in your home, for all of the features mentioned above, and the potential to control elements like lights and temperature through verbal commands. It likely won't dominate the controls of the home, but rather work alongside manual (flipping a switch) and touch (using your mobile device). Amazon may have created itself a solid place in the race with Apple and Google for control of the IoT connected home ecosystem.