Jim Harrer


Alexa and I - 90 days and loving it. New tricks I hope the Amazon Echo will learn in the future.


Amazon Echo - The first 90 days.

I jumped on Amazon's offer to purchase their Echo when I first heard about it.  Alexa, as she was named by Jeff Bezos's team, arrived on February 3rd, 2015. 

I've read a couple of reviews and am happy to share my perspective, however I thought it would also to be fun to talk about some of the things I hope Alexa will learn to do in the future - so I'll discuss both and hope you'll use the comment section below to ask questions and add your own observations.

Review & learning to talk to Alexa

I thought it was incredibly easy to unpack and get set up.  I was talking to Alexa in less than five minutes.  I decided to take her to the office where she would see more consistent use, and even moving her to the company WiFi was painless.  I've got to hand it to the Amazon team, connecting my TVs and DVRs to my home Wi-Fi were much more difficult.  The companion Amazon Echo iOS app I use makes navigating the Amazon Echo pretty darn easy.

I immediately started my conversation with Alexa, things like:

  • "Alexa, play country music" - and she found a Prime County Music play list and started playing it. I could easily control the volume by just speaking in a normal voice commands like, "Alexa louder" or "Turn it down" and even "Mute" when the phone rang or someone walked in my office. They did a great job with the microphones because Alexa seldom misses your command, even if you've got the music cranking.  I actually think the speakers sound great even though I've read reviews where people disagree.  Also, the music choices are fantastic, they have a ton of free music stations via Amazon Prime Music, they also support Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn making it a powerful music device.
  • "Alexa, what is the weather forecast?" - 56 degrees with a slight chance of rain, she responds.
  • "Alexa, set an alarm for 2:45pm. Alexa, set an alarm for 10 minutes" - she acknowledges the settings and continues the music as if not to be bothered by the interruption.
  • "Alexa, give me the news" - she responds with my flash news, categories I pre-selected via their Echo application.  She has a pleasant voice reading the news, much better than Siri, IMHO.
  • "Alexa, how is my commute?" - about 30 minutes with heavy traffic on hwy 16.

Here is a full list of commands Alexa understands.

There is a lot that Alexa can do that I haven't tried.  She can control lights (Philips Hue), or switches (Belkin WeMo), reorder select Prime-eligible items from Amazon, and track to-do lists.

Today, with Alexa at my office, the Echo is primarly a great music device.  With all the Prime Music stations to choose from I often let Alexa choose the music for me simply by saying, "Alexa play some music." If I had it at home I could see using the shopping list feature or alarm clock more, but I think the possibilites as a personal assistent are the most interesting to me.

What is the future for the Amazon Echo?

I'm very impressed with Alexa's foundation.  Good speakers (2.5" woofer, with a reflex port for extra bass, 2.0" tweeter), 7-microphone array, WiFi, Bluetooth, 4GB flash memory and 256MB RAM it packs a punch when connected continously to Amazon's world class cloud.  The challenge is deciding who Alexa is for?  Having an office in a building is becoming more rare and limiting, so giving her access to my contact list and calendar may not be in the cards.  Never the less, I think it would be cool if my calendar alerts were announced by her, I could hear her say, "Jim, don't forget your meeting with Gary in 5 minutes." Then, wouldn't it be sweet to say, "Text Gary I'm on my way" and she uses my phone to do that?

I really like their flash news feature and the fact you can customize the news you want.  I would like to see us give Alexa permission to interrupt me with flash alerts I could also configure. "Excuse me Jim, do you have a moment?" If I say "yes", she continues.  No response, she goes quiet.  It would be useful to get flash alerts about my commute when it's close to my normal departure time to go home, or other events. For example, "Traffic accident on your route home, plan accordingly" or "Seattle Mariner Micah Johnson just hit a 2-run home run" or "Amazon just hit a new 52 week high at $450 share". You get the idea.

I do wish Alexa knew what stocks I tracked, I would like to ask how the market did today without looking at it.  I also wish they had Financial Markets Flash News channel, what is the market doing, winners and losers.

It would also be cool if I could make or receive calls via VoIP or bluetooth to my phone.  I suspect the Amazon Echo would make a pretty amazing speaker phone for my office.

With Alexa always on and ready, combined with the power of the cloud, the possibilities for this device are pretty amazing.  However, when you start to think about the possibilities of *multiple* connected Amazon Echos, some interesting concepts could be tested that could prove to be disruptive.  "Alexa, ping Debbie" and instantly on my home Echo my wife Debbie hears, "Debbie, do you have a moment to speak to Jim?" When she says yes, we're connected.  No dialing.  And using Amazon Echo in retail locations, well, I'll have to save some of those ideas for a future article.

Well there you have it, my starter wish list for Alexa.  It will be interesting to check back in a year and see if the Amazon Product Managers agreed with any of these ideas.  I do believe cloud connected devices are just beginning to appear in the market place as we are just starting to scratch the surface to understand what the "Internet of Things" is all about.  

Let me know what you think, what would you like to see Alexa be able to do? Use the comment section below.

Thanks for reading,


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