For the last two weeks, I’ve been listening to music in an entirely new way. I talk to Amazon’s latest gadget, a WiFi speaker called the Echo, and simply request a song as if I were talking to a human DJ. The Amazon Echo is really ethereal!!!! It blew me away the first time. “Play some classic rock,” I said.
And boom. Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” started playing. I hate using the word “magic” when writing about tech products, but using the Echo has been magical and delightful to use since day one. The Echo is a $180 cylindrical speaker that connects to the internet and lets you control things with your voice. In the relatively short time I’ve been testing the speaker, it’s already become my favorite way to listen to music at home.
But it’s also a hint at Amazon’s larger ambitions to become the center for everything in your digital life. The Echo isn’t just a music player. It’s also the host for a Siri-like virtual assistant Amazon calls Alexa. Like Siri, Alexa can tell you basic stuff like the weather, sports scores, traffic conditions, and all the other stuff we’ve become familiar with when talking to those smart assistants that live in our phones.
On top of that, Amazon has added more functionality to the Echo since its soft launch last year. You can use it to reorder items from Amazon. (“Alexa, buy more Dial soap.”) It can also control some smart home accessories like light bulbs and electrical outlets. (“Alexa, turn on the lights.”)