Justin Duke

Two weeks with the Amazon Echo

(Obvious disclaimer goes here: I work at Amazon but not on the Echo team or any team that remotely touches this product. I’m writing this as a nerd consumer, not as an employee of Amazon.)

After buying an Apple Watch (which didn’t turn out great), I bought an Echo. I’ve had it for two weeks.

I think it’s really great. It doesn’t do much, but it does what it does very well.

Speech recognition is a non-trivial task. I’ve been pretty bearish on the idea of voice as a non-gimmick interaction mechanism; while it’s fun to play with Siri’s easter eggs and feel briefly like Jarvis, my experience with voice commands is that they involve a struggle far beyond that of just typing/tapping/doing it yourself, and are inferior except in cases where your hands are occupied (like driving, for instance.)

Now, though, I get that this is less of an issue with the underlying concept of interacting via voice and more of poor implementations.

The Echo (or, to call it by its wake word, Alexa) can do three things very well:

  1. Tell you the weather
  2. Tell you the news
  3. Play you music

It can do some other stuff, too – like set timers, spell words, read audiobooks, add items to a shopping list 1 and give you sports recaps – but I mainly care about those three. And the important thing is that it does them all well; I’ve literally never had to repeat the same command twice, and it can hear me from anywhere in the apartment. The only weird UX quibble I’ve run into is having it choose between Pandora and Amazon Music (if you say play Blind Pilot radio it gets confused, but if you say play Blind Pilot Pandora it knows what’s up.)

I think the Echo is going to grow a lot; the SDK looks really dope and I see it replacing a lot of the annoying consumption patterns that are in my life. The fact that Amazon is throwing $100 million of funding at it speaks volumes of their faith in its potential. It’s going to become a big deal in the coming years.

There are a bunch of things I’d really like it to handle:

  • Hype Machine / Spotify support, though I’m sure there are weird legal nuances here that I don’t care about
  • Reading emails
  • Giving stocks updates
  • Uber / Lyft / OneBusAway

But even if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy with it. It’s a small, pleasant, useful device that makes my life better. It recedes into the background when not in use. It accomplishes its goals. Plus, this never gets old:

Alexa, play some Miles Davis.

(Also, shout out to my parents for getting one before me and convincing me of its worth far more than any of our marketing did. Seriously, y’all, commercials can be more than Gary Busey and some generic acoustic folk.)


  1. Which is, for reasons passing understanding, not tied to your Amazon cart? [return]
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© 2017 Justin Duke • All rights reserved • I hope you have a nice day.