Did you ever imagine a future where you won’t need to learn commands to get things done on your computer? Or even click anything at all? With the new voice assistants developed by the biggest tech companies of our times, it is slowly turning into a reality. And soon, Indians will start using the newly available Amazon Echo speakers.
If you are one such user, here’s what you should know about these ambient computing devices. Right from setting them up to knowing about ‘skills’ and a lot more.
1. What are the Amazon Echo speakers, really?
If you’ve tried the Google Assistant on your Android phone or Siri on an iPhone, you are already familiar with what digital assistants are. The Amazon Echo utilises Amazon’s attempt at making such a digital assistant (Alexa) and integrating her smarts with other home appliances. Think: Home Automation, or Internet of Things.
To put it in even simpler terms: the Amazon Echo is a piece of hardware (speakers) running on an intelligent piece of software (Alexa). They’ve been around for a few years but only recently launched in India. They come in 3 sizes: starting with the smallest Dot variant, then the Echo and the biggest is the Echo Plus. All three have the same software but their differing dimensions mean they have varying sound output levels.
So what’s great about it? Well, for one, you don’t have to worry about unlocking any device or looking at any display while searching for an answer. If the Echo is in the same room, it can pick up what you’re asking from pretty much any corner and reply with a suitable reply. All you have to do is begin with “Hey Alexa” and start talking to it.
2. How to set up the Amazon Echo speakers
In an ideal world, you would simply have to take a product out of its packaging and plug it in. From then on, it would just work. It’s not an ideal world we live in, however. So even before you unpack the Echo speaker, ensure you install the Amazon Alexa app on your iPhone or Android phone.
Now that the app is installed and you have unpacked the Echo, take a moment to familiarise yourself with it. All the actionable pieces are on the top, regardless of which Echo you purchased. These are self-explanatory: the microphone button, an action button and the volume ring. You can mute the microphone button to disable the ‘always listening’ mode, hold down the action button to enable Alexa without the need for a ‘wake word‘ and adjust the volume by swiping the ring.
But to connect the Echo to the internet, you will need to go back to your phone. However, you can start the setup process only after you have plugged in your Echo and the light on the top ring is orange: indicating that the Echo is now in configuration mode. Next, you will need to connect your phone via an ad-hoc connection to the Echo, like many smart home products. Select the Echo’s Wi-Fi connection which will be similar to something like Amazon-0BM.
Now, open the Alexa app on the phone and sign in with your Amazon account. The app should automatically begin the configuration process and the Echo might also chime in with her voice stating the same. In case nothing happens, tap the menu icon on the top left and then tap Settings. Here, ensure you’re logged in with your Amazon account and the app shows that you are connected to your Echo device. That’s all you need to do.
3. What else can Amazon Echo speakers do?
Once you are confident that the setup process is completed, you can then begin talking to Alexa. Ask her about the weather, how tall is the current British Prime Minister and other banal stuff. But that’s not really the true purpose of a digital assistant, right? Amazon was clear in the way they have designed the Echo. To ease your shopping experience. Surprised? Don’t be.
Amazon is the undisputed champion of online transactions and with the Echo, they want you to shop for things without hassles. No unlocking a phone, opening an app, choosing the product, making the payment and then confirming it all. All you have to do with Echo is say, “Alexa, buy a deodorant”. Alexa will then check your Amazon purchase history for the last deodorant you purchased and re-order it. That’s it. No browsing for it, no re-checking of anything and no tapping on any display of any phone. Simply say a few magic words and it’s in your shopping cart.
While things may work slightly differently in India (especially since we have mandatory OTP for most online transactions), it will certainly ease your shopping experience manifolds. What’s more, that’s not the only thing that the Echo can do. It can turn off your lights, play some music, help you with workouts and much more.
4. What are Amazon Echo Skills, you speak of?
Think of ‘Skills’ on the Amazon Echo as added functionality that you enjoy with voice commands. So if you want to add automation as a feature, add the famous ITTT ‘skill’ to your Amazon Echo. How? Simply use the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone, search the skill you want to add and then confirm.
You can add any number of skills you want and adding more will let you do more stuff. For India, we can see that Amazon has already tied up with Zomato, so you can use your Echo to order for food. You can even hail a cab from Ola and book a pedicure session from UrbanClap. Simply by adding these ‘skills’ once and then talking to Alexa.
Are you ready for the future?
In his final column, noted tech writer Walt Mossberg wrote about The Disappearing Computer. He observed how Ambient Computing is here and shaping our future.
I expect that one end result of all this work will be that the technology, the computer inside all these things, will fade into the background. In some cases, it may entirely disappear, waiting to be activated by a voice command, a person entering the room, a change in blood chemistry, a shift in temperature, a motion. Maybe even just a thought.
Are you ready to join this future?