Amazon announces a new voice-command device called Echo

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The announcement of Amazon Echo came as a surprise earlier this week and left some scratching their heads, wondering what in the world Amazon is thinking. While Amazon has been shy about disclosing product details, here’s what we know: similar to Siri, you’ll be able talk to the cylinder-shaped device and ask it to read the news out loud, set alarms, play music, reference Wikipedia, remember shopping lists and even tell jokes. It stands at 9 inches high and responds to the word “Alexa.”

Amazon has about $83 million in unsold Fire phones laying around inside its warehouses, but apparently, it hasn’t run out of shelf space just yet. On Thursday, the online retailer took another strange turn in the world of hardware by unveiling a wireless speaker with a Siri-like ability to recognize speech and answer questions. Called the Amazon Echo, the device is ostensibly about playing music and providing information. But ultimately, it looks like yet another gadget Amazon hopes to use as a way of driving retail purchases. It’s also Amazon’s most visible contribution yet to an accelerating push among tech giants towards an internet that’s controlled by voice. The Echo is a small cylinder that sits on a table and has an array of seven microphones on the top that Amazon says can pick up speech even when music is playing. It can stream music from Amazon directly, or connect by Bluetooth to phones and tablets. Instead of “Siri” or “Okay, Google,” the “wake word” for the always-on device is “Alexa.” (Why Amazon chose that word is unclear.)*

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