It’s not hardware per se, but Alexa has turned out to be one of Amazon’s biggest movements in consumer products. And the now ubiquitous voice assistant made its debut in the first Echo speaker. It happened five years after Siri, but when she first came in, Alexa was significantly more useful and fun than Apple’s voice assistant because she could dig deeper into the internet’s knowledge banks.
The first Echo speaker is also the device that made Alexa a household name and brought conversational computing to the mainstream. Ask a question, get an answer? It seemed new at the time, but it also clearly pointed to the future. And that become the future pretty soon after Amazon started pumping dozens of Echo variants and licensing voice technology in a way that would allow other hardware makers to put Alexa in their own speakers. .. and alarm clocks, light bulbs, shower heads, microwaves, headphones and smartwatches. Of course, Alexa’s limitations as a conversation partner make it even more astute, but the types of computer interactions popularized by Alexa now seem quite normal. We’re just talking to our computers these days! No problem.
2017: Echo Look
In April 2017, Amazon revealed what was perhaps its most bizarre gadget at the time: the Echo Look, a phallic smart camera with an array of four microphones that would take hands-free photos of your outfits and tell you what to wear. This is not a joke. The camera was available by invitation only, although one of the WIRED editors managed to purchase one on eBay and reviewed it for another post at the time.
In the end, the Echo look gave us a glimpse of our future in computer vision. He used machine learning to make recommendations, as many consumer products do these days, but he also had a lot of flawed “personalized” suggestions. alarmed privacy advocates. In the spring of 2020, Amazon announced that it would be discontinuing the Echo look and that the camera would no longer work as of July 2020.
2017-2020: Echo … Everything
Here we take a break from our usual timeline. On a sunny Seattle morning in late September 2017, the tech press gathered at Amazon headquarters to… well, we didn’t know what to expect. As it turns out, Amazon has decided to join its tech brethren in hosting an official hardware launch. On that day, and again in the following years, Amazon spewed out countless new products (hardware and software).
We’ve tried to list a few key products here: Echo Plus; a shorter and bigger echo; Echo Spot; Echo buttons; Echo Connect; a Big Mouth Billy Bass with Alexa (again, not kidding); Echo Auto; Echo Sub; Echo wall clock; Amazon Basics microwave (more information on Amazon kitchen appliances below); Echo link; Redesign of Fire TV; Stick-Up Cam Ring; Echo Dot Kids; new Eero routers; Ring Car Alarm, Car Cam and Car Connect; a spherical echo; and a cloud gaming service called Luna. Did we miss something? I laugh. We certainly did.
2017: Echo Show
One of the products that arrived on this day in September 2017 was the first Echo Show. It was a “smart screen,” basically a small tablet-like screen with speakers for listening to music, a microphone for capturing your Alexa commands, and a camera for… wait, what was the camera for? For use with a new Alexa-based communication platform that allows people to send audio, video, and text to anyone with an Alexa device or the Alexa app on their phone .
That chat service didn’t really take off, and the camera just got people out. The Echo Show has succeeded in showing how much more Alexa could be useful when integrated with a dedicated touchscreen. Smart screens have become a hit. Google did its own version that worked with its Google Assistant, and both companies licensed the technology to other hardware makers that helped these countertop devices proliferate. Fortunately there is many options out there today that come with camera shutdown switches.