Talking to your house is one of those things that you don’t ever think you’ll find yourself doing.
But spend a few days with the Amazon Echo and it’s in-built intelligence Alexa, and you’ll soon wonder how you ever got by without a hands-free helper.
From turning the lights on and off in the evening, reading you latest news headlines in the morning or waking you up from a 30 minute power-nap, the Echo does it all, faultlessly.
Using only your voice, you can communicate with Amazon’s smart speaker in a way that both feels effortless, while fitting into your everyday routine.
Although currently not available directly in the UK or Australia, for those who’ve currently got their hands on one, the Echo is proving to be a very real bridge to the fully connected, voice-controlled smart home experience.
When you first start up the Echo, Alexa (the ‘wake word’ Amazon gives their devices – more on this later) greets you and walks you through the setup process of hooking the device up to your home network using your smartphone or tablet.
That’s pretty much it when it comes to setup: unbox, plugin, connect.
Whenever Echo hears the word Alexa, it will begin listening to your requests and you’re then on your way to finally getting things done hands-free.
“Alexa, set the timer for 30 minutes”
“Alexa, play my workout mix on Spotify”
But what if you or someone else in your house happens to be called Alexa too – wouldn’t things start getting a bit confusing?
Well, luckily Amazon has also programmed in two other wake words – “Echo” and “Amazon”, although unfortunately you can’t expand the name of your new intelligent speaker beyond these three just yet.
Buried within the stylish casing of the Echo, seven noise-cancelling microphones use far-field voice recognition so it always hears your voice, wherever you are in the room and even when there’s other background noise.
The really great thing about the Echo is that the number of things it’s capable of doing is growing by the day.
From streaming music directly from Spotify to getting weather updates, the feature list of the Echo means that it soon becomes one of those investments that becomes more valuable as time passes.
Music streaming and playback is nothing of course without sound and the audio quality of the device is based around what Amazon call “immersive sound” which pitches 360 degrees of sound from the Echo.
Of course, the key to the Amazon Echo is Alexa, the spoken voice and avid listener of your new smart home assistant.
Again, the key to the innovation here on the part of Amazon comes in the form of a growing skill-set offered by Alexa. While at launch, the abilities of the device were pretty cool but somewhat limited (setting a timer, providing weather reports etc), the growth of apps and integration methods using IFTTT mean that Alexa is able to ‘learn’ new tricks and becomes more helpful and innovative as time goes by.
Integrating with the Smart Home
So, the Amazon Echo and Alexa make a great addition to helping out with information, entertainment and productivity tasks in a hands-free capacity – seriously, turning on your music using your voice while chopping vegetables in the kitchen is one useful ability.
But it’s in the potential – and existing – utilization of the device as an integrated element of the connected smart home that Alexa and the Echo really begin to come into their own.
The scope of integrating the Amazon Echo and other Alexa enabled devices such as the Dot or Tap highlight the potential for the platform to revolutionize the way people interact with, control and respond to the smart home ecosystem.
Much like Apple with the development of their Siri controlled HomeKit, Alexa is Amazon’s answer to connecting people with their smart home devices through the medium of voice control.
Among some of the best Echo smart home integrations currently out there include:
- Connected smart lighting solutions such as Philips Hue and LIFX
- The range of WeMo smart switches which allow you to make existing devices ‘smart’.
- Integration with smart thermostats like Nest and Ecobee
- Smart home platforms including Insteon, SmartThings and Wink.
As mentioned earlier, Alexa also works well with the free automation service IFTTT meaning you can use the Echo to carry out a whole load of other tasks based on pre-designed recipes which allow devices to collaborate to carry out a certain task.
The Amazon Echo is the first device to successfully bridge the gap between the smart home and the occupant through the power of voice in a way that’s accessible to everyone.
Effectively a user interface for your home, the Echo is not only really good at what it does, but it’s learning new tricks every day.
Enabling people to interact with their homes, devices, entertainment and information in a way like never before makes the Amazon Echo an essential addition to the modern smart home environment.Learn more about Amazon Echo here