It’s been a little frustrating seeing all these reviews for the Amazon Echo and reading about all of the cool features that’re being added to it through updates because I haven’t been able to get my hands on one. The connected speaker, virtual assistant, and potential smart home hub has been on an invite system these past few months which have limited the Echo to being used by only a handful of lucky people. Fortunately for me, however, Amazon has finally decided that the Echo is ready to launch and is now accepting pre-orders for the device.
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.