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.

My Review of Java Message Service

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

 

 

Java Message Service, Second Edition, is a thorough introduction to the standard API that supports “messaging” — the software-to-software exchange of crucial data among network computers. With this practical guide, you’ll learn how JMS can help you solve many architectura…

Old Topic, but a good starting point.

By AnotherJavaDude from Singapore on 10/29/2010
4out of 5

Pros: Well-written, Helpful examples, Accurate

Best Uses: Intermediate

Describe Yourself: Maker, Developer

Despite JMS being an “old” (in IT terms) piece of technology (API), you still find requirements for it in lots of projects and the basic needs of a messaging API are fully satisfied, even not updated since 2002.
This book is one of the few books covering the topic at all, and coming with code samples is the best you can get to get started with JMS. With a fair background of your application/messaging server and your favourite IDE you should be able to get the samples running.

(legalese)

Android Review

The Android, aka G1 or HTC Dream, is available now in a couple of countries like Germany, Singapore, France,.. I use the phone (the development version) on a day to day basis since a couple of weeks, the same time I am getting up to speed developing applications for it. The first impressions from a consumer prospective:

  • Simple design, but not as sleek as an iPhone.
  • The screen touch feature is less responsive than the iPhone.
  • The battery runtime is not practical. Using applications regularly and the GPS feature makes you hunt for an energy source after 1 day of use.
  • The built-in applications are very simplistic and you rather start looking for some with more features to download.

This review does not reflect the technical background or quality of the Android. I am still convinced of the platform, just the first available hardware release is not optimum.

I am sure there will be an updated new version of the phone, other manufacturers will follow to produce devices using the Android platform and the number of available applications will increase, eventually reach the iPhone level. Stay tuned for more hands-on developing of the Android.