Amazon Echo, the company’s $200 connected speaker which serves as a virtual assistant of sorts offering to play music, answer questions, and, of course, shop by voice, will now work to control the lights and other appliances in your home, too. Amazon announced today, by way of an email to current customers, that Echo has been updated to support a variety of connected devices from companies including WeMo and Hue.
Initially, Echo will support WeMo’s Switch, Insight Switch, and Light Switch and Hue’s A19, Lux, BR30, Bloom, and LightStrip lights, the email advised. But these are likely only the first of more product integrations yet to come, as Amazon tries to position Echo as more than an always-on assistant, but also an interface to the “connected home.”
The Echo, for those that missed it the first time around, is a cylindrical device with seven microphones on top that help it listen to voice commands while filtering out background noise. It then process that voice input by connecting to Amazon’s web-based servers, which is how it’s able to get better at processing and responding to user commands over time. The product first launch with support for playback of music from Amazon Music Library, Prime Music, TuneIn and iHeartRadio, as well as news and weather info from local radio, NPR, ESPN via TuneIn and more. And it answers basic questions by way of Wikipedia.
Since its debut, Amazon has been steadily rolling out updates, including the addition of Pandora as well as traffic, sports scores and schedules, for example.
To use the new functionality, Amazon explains that customers will have to first connect their WeMo and Hue devices to their home Wi-Fi network and name them in those companies’ respective apps. Then, they’ll have to instruct Echo’s assistant “Alexa” to find the appliances using a simple command: “Alexa, discovery my appliances.” Afterwards, however, they’ll be able to interact with those devices using natural language instructions, like “Alexa, turn on the hallway light” or “Alexa, turn on the coffee maker,” for example. You can also ask Alexa to dim lights by a certain amount, like “20%,” for example.
This latest move makes the Echo seem less gimmicky – being able to control your home via voice commands is a nifty trick for the device. But it will be more interesting if Amazon is working to add more integrations with additional products from other companies, too – which may be iffy, especially since one of the more popular smart home devices, the Nest thermostat, is owned by competitor Google. (We’ve asked Amazon for additional information and will update if they respond.)