Hands-On Amazon Echo Dot and Alexa

Amazon Echo, the voice-controlled and hands-free device/speaker was already launched in the US in November 2014, now 2 years later the Echo, and the Echo Dot second generation, is available in Europe. In Germany it was soft-launched in late October on an invitation base at Euro 59.99, the bigger Echo at Euro 179.-.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

Curious enough about having a glimpse into our household and workplace (?) future I requested one and got it delivered last week Friday. At the size of a hockey puck, the device contains 7 microphones, a simple loudspeaker, WLAN and Bluetooth connectivity. No battery, so the Echo must be connected to a USB power adapter at all times. I must admit, the idea of having a “spy” device with microphones permanently listening into my room brings up some privacy concerns, though Amazon claims only the keyword (Alexa, Echo or Amazon) is activating the device, it’s LED ring starts to turn blue, and the spoken commands get transferred to the Amazon cloud, using the Alexa Voice Recognition Service, on which Amazon supposedly spend a 100 million dollars.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

Here a first hands-on experience resume:

Being an Amazon user with a Prime account and already a Kindle and a Fire HD tablet at home, the setup takes less than 5 minutes, inclusive of setting up a WLAN connection from the Alexa App to the device, preparing the WLAN access from the device to your AP and connecting it via Bluetooth to the home theater system. The device is woken up with the keyword or by pressing one of the four buttons on top of it, followed by your question or command.

It does not run a conversational model in the basic use cases, though the skill sets support sessions ! You raise a question or trigger a command, that’s it. It wont ask back (yet). It will respond with the right answer or execute what you have asked for, or respond it if it does not understand you, sometimes it wont do anything at all after activation other than showing the blue ring (maybe due to noisy environment). The basic services available are rather simple or move around the Amazon product landscape, most prominently playing music on demand from the Amazon Prime Music offerings, ordering products from Amazon or responding with the weather info or respond to simple Wikipedia style questions. The power of the device is unfolding with the skill-sets that allow third parties to offer services based on the Alexa services. This can be house-automation, ordering pizzas and other consumer services. Being a regional feature there are about 3,000 skills available in the US but only about 2 dozens in Germany at the time of writing.

My kids had a Sunday afternoon fun time to play with it and trying to fool with it, though at this stage it wears out pretty fast after hearing “I don’t understand your request” and similar responses if you leave its pre-programmed comfort zone (it is interesting to observe how kids approach such a device). Be aware of the Eliza Effect using a device with a synthetic voice and human-like response.

What makes it particularly interesting to me is the evaluation of a completely voice based service and the platforms extensibility through the Alex Skill Set and the API’s that Amazon provides. You find lots of information at the Amazon developer portal and you can even join the Mashup Contest.

In short, right now it is still a toy but with lots of opportunities to come up in the near future. I will look at the potential use cases in a aviation environment, both operational and as passenger and keep you posted.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

While using the Echo I feel a bit like talking to Hal 9000 in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” directed by Stanley Kubrick. Echo does not yet have an attitude.

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FB aquires WhatsApp – Bye and Thanks for the Fish

WhatsApp known for its massive security issues, still used by millions of people as a free replacement of SMS and MMS, was acquired by FB, one (maybe the) biggest data harvester in the internet. I dont use FB, the acquisition is a reason to finally move on to another more secure communication tool: Threema  (Made in Switzerland app with end-to-end encryption). Hope they wont sell privacy for money. Please help to spread the word.

It is NOT free, but is time to understand FREE comes at a price !

Android 2.3 released

Just noticed Gingerbread is coming to town since yesterday ! A bunch of new API stuff, such as SIP, NFC, multiple cameras and more. Read all the details here.
Now, the usual questions come up:

  • When we gonna see the first native 2.3 device ?
  • Will my device be supported / updated ? (Is Nexus One going to be updated ?)
  • Did you see a device with NCF reader ? (near-field communication)
  • and when we see Android 3.0 ? Will there be a Android 2.4 before ?

According to some news, Gingerbread will be “pushed” to Nexus One owners in the next few weeks.

The Nexus S is going to be the next official Google Phone (Samsung this time!), available after December 16 (doesnt seem to be available through shipping like the previous models)

AWS for free

Starting November 1st Amazon is giving a way cloud computer power for free. Of course it is limited, but way enough to get your feed wet and gather cloud experience at no cost. It only works for new subscribers, but no one stop you to create a second account (if you already have one). Read more at http://aws.amazon.com/free/. Happy cloud computing !

News from the Java World

As expected at JavaOne some news were released. Blogs and development portals are full of it. In short:

  • Netbeans 6.9 becomes 7.0 in order to be aligned with the Java platform itself. (more info here)
    I am fine with that, seems Oracle is still serious about Netbeans.
  • JavaFX Script is dead but the features will be available as API. (more info here)
    OK, the scripting was a bit cumbersome. But you could get used to it using Netbeans.