Amazon Echo Connected Speaker Goes Up For U.S.-Wide Pre-Order, For $180

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Amazon has opened up U.S. availability of its connected speaker-cum-virtual-assistant, the Echo. Previously it was limiting who could buy it to invite-only. It’s now put the speaker on general pre-order release, for $180, with a shipping date of July 14. The Echo is still only available in the U.S.

The ecommerce behemoth unveiled the Echo last November, packaging a voice assistant called Alexa in a 360-degree speaker/listening post which could be vocally commanded to play music, radio, news and answer queries such as what’s the local weather. It also has its own app.

Since then Amazon has been beefing up Echo’s capabilities — adding the ability to control other connected home devices, such as Philips Hue products, plus things like support for IFTTT recipes, and access to Google Calendar, sports scores, traffic updates, Pandora radio and more.  Amazon has also released a private beta of a free SDK for its Alexa voice assistant — and notes that “new skills and capabilities” will start rolling out later this year.

In May it also added the ability to buy stuff on Amazon.com, via voice command, albeit that feature remains limited to those paying out for its Prime membership scheme. Driving ecommerce on its website is clearly one sizable business driver for Amazon with Echo, along with — more generally — creating another incentive for consumers to play within (and pay for) its ecosystem of services.

“Prime members can ask Echo to play hundreds of ad-free, personalized streaming music stations via Prime Music,” its notes today, drawing attention to how tightly it’s integrating and cross-promoting its services with Echo. “Like, dislike, or skip as many songs as you wish while you discover songs from the Prime Music catalog.”