The Amazing Echo

I recently read Dustin Curtis’ rant on the new Amazon Echo, how Amazon has no idea what they’re doing and how their new product is misguided and “sucks”. My reaction was a bit different. When I first saw the commercial for Echo, I was in tears. It was so beautifully done and natural that you felt the family was real and lively. Let’s set aside branding for now and focus on the meat: the actual product. I think the Echo is wonderful.

I just recently purchased my own home, and I couldn’t be more excited to move in. Having only rented in the past, I never had the comfort nor peace of mind in making any rented place feel like home, since I knew I would be moving out soon. So I wouldn’t invest in things like a Nest or Phillips Hue, since the place wasn’t mine to tinker with. But now that I’m moving into something I own, I’ve gone as far as making a list of all the home electronics I want to purchase and furnish my place with. The (short) list currently looks something like this:

  1. Nest
  2. Phillips Hue
  3. August house lock
  4. Roomba vacuum

Any time a new product comes out, I add it to the list. Home automation products excite me unlike anything else. We spend so much of our time at home, and up until very recently, our homes were very disconnected. And think about the promise of these products, and how valuable they are:

  • Save money on your heating bill with the self-learning Nest
  • Control the mood and lighting environment of your entire place from your phone with Phillips Hue
  • Come home to a clean house with Roomba

As a homeowner, these things should excite you the way a laundry machine first excited the hard working people that washed by hand. I, like many others, am actively hunting and seeking new smart products for my home, whatever they may be. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary – it just has to provide even a semblance of utility. We understand this product category is still in its incipient phases. We don’t expect one product to change the way we use our entire home – just for your product to be good at what it’s for. It’s not unlikely that in a few years we’ll have hundreds of smart products in our home that focus on doing small tasks well.

Enter the Echo.

What does Amazon have that arguably no other company has? Purchase data from millions of customers around the world. What they purchase, where they purchase, how much they spend, their spending habits, trends amongst populations, and just general product trends.

I don’t have the insight to guarantee this, but more than likely, the Echo was born out of data. They looked at what people were purchasing and what they were likely to purchase, and observed a trend where users who don’t generally purchase high cost items spend hundreds on smart home products. And what they did was something that no one expected them to do – they created a new, original product.

I would have expected much less from Amazon, perhaps creating a Nest look alike or a Phillips Hue competitor. Instead they created something no one else quite thought about. Yes, Amazon.

The Product

Yes, the Echo is Siri in a box. And we all know how often we use Siri and how that works out. But this is different. With Siri, you’re out and about, and not usually in a place where it’s ok to yell at your phone. I’m not going to bust out my phone at work or at a library to talk to Siri. The only time I really ever actually need Siri is when I’m driving, and that’s a hit or miss. At home, it’s different. At home, you’re you. You walk around in your boxers, yell at the TV, play with the dog, sing with your kids. You’re allowed to be loud at home. The Echo is a welcome and befitting lifestyle product that has the potential to fit right in.

The problem with every connected technology product thus far is that I need my phone to control them. This means having to take out or find my phone while my hands are oily from cooking, unlocking it, pressing and holding to activate Siri, and just hoping she understands you.

Or you can simply just yell “Echo, set a timer real quick for 5 minutes”. Perhaps Echo’s functionality is currently limited, but let’s look at the bigger picture here, since we all know tech products are a work in progress. The very reasonably near future:

“Echo, call my mom”

“Echo, turn on the heat; it’s a bit cold”

“Echo, dim the lights a bit would you?”

“Echo, can you call my Roomba over here. I made a mess.”

“Echo, I can’t find my phone. Ping it, would you?”

“Echo, my friends are here – can you unlock the door?”

“Echo, make yourself useful and order an Uber.”

“Echo, order a pizza from Papa Johns – cheese, chicken, pineapple, and jalapeño. DO NOT forget the jalapeño.”

Better yet, once it learns your habits, maybe she’ll recommend things:

“Mo, time for work. Should I order an Uber now or in 5 minutes?”

“Mo, it’s Friday night and you’ve been sitting on your ass for the last 4 hours. Interstellar is playing and I heard it was pretty good. Should I order 2 tickets for the 8:30 show?

Now that’s a smart home. And Amazon of all people thought of the first product that can connect all these things in a way simpler than by fiddling with apps on a phone.

The Branding

Call this a matter of opinion, but I thought the Echo commercial was beautifully done, especially coming from Amazon. The family felt so genuine and nice that you envied their life. When his wife yells loudly at the Echo, the sweet and likable character that is the dad enthusiastically explains that you don’t have to yell at the Echo: it uses this new technology that lets it hear you better. Think of how a less original advertising company would have done that same commercial: “THE ECHO USES PATENTED FAR FIELD TECHNOLOGY TO HEAR YOU FROM WHEREVER YOU ARE IN THE ROOM. AND THERE’S MORE!”

Instead we see a lovely family go about their regular lives using the product naturally. What I love most about it was there was no dramatization, no Apple-like cinematography. It was just…real, and honest. And it sold me. Maybe that’s Amazon’s brand, their touch? Just down to earth products for down to earth people. Sure, we don’t have Jony Ive designing our products, their commercial tends to say, but we’re a real company, and we want to create products that are actually helpful. We, just like every single tech company on this planet, are still experimenting and finding what works best for you and us. Yes, we fucked up with the Fire phone, but here, look at what we’re doing now. The Echo.

I’d imagine that’s where their heart is at. It’s not farfetched to say that sometime in the near future, Amazon’s largest income share will come from their own in house products rather than their online retail sales.

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