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The Amazon Echo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2016

Amazon Echo

It’s been very interesting to see the Amazon Echo not only succeed as a consumer product but to enter the realm of pop culture (see also also also). Somehow, the Echo is officially A Thing.

But Amazon doesn’t make Things. Apple makes Things…Amazon just sells stuff for cheap. Aside from the Kindle,1 many of their other consumer products have not taken off (the Fire Tablet, despite the 7” model selling for only $50 now) or have plain flopped (hello Fire Phone). But somehow, the Echo became a surprise hit.

When it launched, Amazon’s critics jumped to mock the company. Some called it a useless gimmick; others pointed to it as evidence of Amazon’s Orwellian tendencies. Then something weird happened: People decided they loved it. Amazon never releases data about how its products are selling, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners issued a report this month saying that Amazon had sold more than 3 million devices, with 1 million of those sales happening during the 2015 holiday season. About 35,000 people have reviewed the speaker on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.

Perhaps even more important to Amazon is how dozens of independent developers are writing apps that work with the speaker’s voice controls. You can use Alexa to turn off the lights, ask it how much gas is left in your car, or order a pizza. This is doubly surprising given how far behind Apple and Google the company was in the area of voice control when it started. The Echo may have seemed like a superfluous toy at first, but it now looks like a way for Amazon to become the default choice in a whole new era in the way people interact with computers and the Internet.

One the Echo’s fans is my friend Anil Dash, who wrote about it last night:

More positively, Echo is meaningful because it’s also the first hugely popular smart device that’s connected to a place rather than a person. (Video game consoles are obviously dedicated to the living room, too, but they’re a purpose-specific device, and none have crossed over into general app platforms.) Apps for places are different than apps for people.

Tressie McMillan Cottom picked up on something Dash wrote about dads loving Echo and wrote about modern families and equality.

One of the great debates around family, the social institution, is that gender parity cannot be achieved unless men are held as responsible for managing the second shift as are women. And, data show that many men are making that shift. It’s not yet a staggering number. It’s not a tipping point. But there’s maybe enough data for social scientists to agree that its a nascent trend: some men are becoming more involved in the critical minutiae of the second shift.

Maybe Dads love Alexa because Dads are suddenly as responsible for ordering the paper towels as Moms.

I don’t have one and I don’t think I’ll buy one anytime soon, but all this interest sure does make me curious.

  1. The Kindle is sort of A Thing, but only because you can’t read the books sold for it using anyone else’s device or app…you have to use a Kindle or the Kindle app on iOS or Android. I mean, I love my Kindle, but if Amazon had any compelling competition in the e-reader space, it (or someone else’s reader) might be a lot better.