For years I've wanted to be able to use voice to interact with the systems around me. I want to be able to talk to my computer as I'm working and in the house I want to be able to interact with everything in my house as I do things. I'm spoiled, I guess, by all of the Science Fiction books and stories I've read throughout the years.
I first got interested in this when I heard about Wildfire, a virtual assistant that ran within your computer. What was interesting about Wildfire (as I understand it) was that it was essentially a PC on a card that sat inside your PC and processed all voice inputs then acted on them. It was expensive and essentially required that you had two PC's, one inside the other.
I've waited and waited and waited for a system that I could just… interact with. I tried Dragon Naturally Speaking (didn't work for me) and constantly watched the industry for my perfect solution.
Much later, we got Google Now and Siri, both very capable voice interaction systems. They're awesome and very useful, but this isn't something I want on my mobile device, I want it in my surroundings – everywhere. Anyway, with these smartphone-controlled systems, they work great and save me a lot of hassle when I need to get something done and I'm tied up.
The problem is that I have to dig my phone out of my pocket to use it and that's not always possible. I carry my phone with me when I'm away from the house, but generally it's on my desk during the day (while I'm working) and still there when I go 'home' at the end of the day. I'm old, I didn't grow up keeping my phone with me at all times. Also, having worked at BlackBerry and being constantly connected taught me that I should put it down every night and ignore anything on it until the morning. I laugh when people call my mobile at night instead of just using my home number – not likely to catch me on the mobile at night unless I'm out of the house.
Another aspect of this is that I ultimately needed something that anyone in my family could use at any time. My wife doesn't carry her phone around with her when she's in the house either, and we have two children that don't have mobile phones, so we needed something that went with the house, not a person.
Anyway, this is a post about the Amazon Echo so I'd better get to it, right?
Last November, Amazon announced the Amazon Echo – a voice interactive system that sits on a counter or desk and waits to act upon your every command. Simply say "Alexa" (or "Echo") and she'll respond and try to deliver an answer to any question you give her or act upon any command she understands. I LOVED the idea and immediately (like 30 minutes after the announcement) requested access.
I waited. And continued to wait. I waited a really long time (more than a month) and never heard anything back from them. Disappointed.
About a month later, I had some family in town and mentioned the Echo to my brother. He immediately hopped online and requested his Echo. I assumed, wrongly, that since I got on the list day-one, that I'd get my Echo WAY before he did, so I didn't worry about letting him in on my little Echo secret.
Wrong! He got his Echo about a week or so later. Ugh!
Apparently, much to my chagrin, Amazon RANDOMLY selected the people who got the early Echos. I'm not sure they told me that when I requested mine, but who reads those disclaimers anyway, right? So, unlike most any get your new product process and most any product ordering scenario, Amazon didn't deal with requests on a FIFO basis, they simply randomly pulled names out and sent them their Echo's.
This was really frustrating. I wanted something like the Echo for so long and I was finally going to get my chance, but there was pretty much no way for me to get one. Sigh.
I started surveying my friends and found out that many other people got theirs – most having requested theirs after I requested mine.
So, like any able bodied American, I started complaining. I emailed Amazon Customer Service and was politely told that it was a random selection process. Frustrating. I started tweeting about it, making as public of a scene as I could without tarnishing my name to much and within about a week or so, Amazon sent me an email with information that would 'allow' me to order an Echo. I plunked down my order as fast as I could only to learn that my Echo wouldn't ship for months. Everybody else requested theirs, got an email allowing them to order very quickly then got their Echo in no time. For me, I had to wait months for an invite then another set of months to actually receive it.
Not really handled very well by Amazon.
Anyway, I finally got my Echo and I LOVE it. I'll write more about it here when I get a chance.
As much as I'm complaining about Amazon, I understand why they did what they wanted. I'm pretty sure they made me wait to get an Echo simply because I requested one as soon as I learned about it. When testing mass market devices like this, you want some early adopters, of course, but what you really want is a wide sampling of users – and sending Echos to the thousands of first-day orderers would not help them get a sampling of non-technical folks. They had to let word of mouth get interest generated for the everyday people, so they could have a better test.