Let’s Call The Amazon Echo What It Is


This morning, Amazon announced a new device called Echo.

With a built-in, cloud connected, “always on” microphone, the Echo can listen for your voice “from across the room.”

You can ask it about the weather. You can tell it to set an alarm. You can ask it for information about Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a personal assistant in a tube!

But let’s be clear here on what this thing is beyond that — or what it will be.

Amazon is not in the business of telling you whether or not it will rain tomorrow.

Nor is it in the business of waking you up in the morning.

Nor is it in the business of teaching you about dead presidents.

Amazon is in the business of selling you things — and that is why Echo exists.

For now, Echo’s shopping-centric functionality is limited to helping you add things to your shopping list.

Need some pickles? Cool. Just say “Alexa, add pickles to my shopping list.” (Note: Echo listens for the word “Alexa” by default. You can pick a different name, it seems.) It won’t order them for you yet. It’ll just add them to a list for you to look at later.

But if Echo sees any sort of success, just watch how fast that will change.

You’ll be able to say “Alexa, order me a copy of Kung Fu Panda 2,” and it’ll be done.

“Alexa, order me some dope-ass high thread count egyptian cotton sheets.” Bam. Done. Sheets are on the way.

One-click purchase becomes no-click purchase. Your entire house (or at least, anything within earshot of Alexa) becomes the impulse-buy candy shelf from the grocery store’s checkout lane.

There’s a reason Prime members get the thing for 50 percent off: Prime members order more. Make it easier for Prime members to order even more, and they will.

Is that a bad thing? Nah. Amazon isn’t forcing these things into your home. And as someone who uses Prime every single day, I actually like the idea of being able to shout my stupid desires to my house and have things magically appear on my doorstep.

But just be clear on why Amazon would want to build something like this. Amazon doesn’t want to be a destination anymore; they don’t want to be something you have to go to; they want to be ubiquitous. They want their store “front end” to be floating in the ether all around you, just waiting for you to open your mouth.

The Echo is a bit like the Fire Phone in that regard; it may do some interesting stuff, but its driving force, the beat in its heart, will be to accept your money as efficiently as possible.

Amazon clearly learned its lesson with the way it marketed the Fire Phone (and the $83 million worth of phones they have sitting around). People don’t like to know they’re spending money just to make it easier to spend even more money. But the motivation here hasn’t changed.