Good news! After the initial US release, followed by Germany, the UK and India, the family of Amazon Echo products can be purchased in over 80 countries. The languages supported are German and English, the latter with 3 different locales (US, Britain and India). Here’s the official news.
Privacy within the privacy of your home is a concern for users of the Amazon Echo and of any other voice assistant, especially since skills that sync it with your personal accounts were made available. I am okay with my spouse checking my calendar, but I would not be so happy to mistake her appointments with mine! Voice assistants also bring out an an ages old problem that us tecchies detect very well, but others not so much: that of cardinality. An example: when you have one Echo (or multiple, linked Echos acting as one, if your home is bigger than mine!) but you don’t live alone, then it’s quite likely that more than one human will speak to Alexa. Why this one-to-many relationship between humans and machines represents a cardinality problem?
Let’s continue with the example. At home, my spouse and I use our Amazon Echo. We’re both non-English speakers and have distinct accents in English (we learnt the language in different continents). Our Echo sometimes goes crazy understanding one or the other. The Machine Learning element of Alexa must be very confused about supposedly the same human saying the same thing in such different ways at random moments in time! I bet Alexa would be happier if we could let her know that we’re two humans, if we could teach her to tell us apart, and then teach her to understand us better one by one.
If on top of having different voices and different accents, you wish to use individual services information (personal calendars, mail accounts…) then you need to be able to somehow link those individual services with your Echo devices – again, cardinality problem. Which one will Alexa use? Mine or my spouse’s? Why does it have to be only one? Can’t it be both?
Luckily, Amazon has just launched Voice Profiles to achieve this. You configure your Echo devices to pair with as many humans as needed. How? Through the Alexa app on your Smartphone. Here’s how:
The person whose Amazon account is linked with the Echo device must launch the Alexa app on their Smartphone, visit Settings -> Accounts -> Voice, and follow the instructions.
The second adult in the household must do the following:
When both of you are at home, launch the Alexa app on the primary user’s Smartphone.
Settings -> Accounts -> Household profile, and follow the instructions to set up this new user.
With any of your Smartphones, log on to the Alexa app with the credential of the second adult in the household.
Follow the instructions below.
Any other humans other than the primary account holder must do the following:
Install the Alexa app on your Smartphone if you haven’t done so.
Log in with your Amazon account (or create one if you’re not the second adult in the household).
Provide the info that’s required to pair up with the Echo device.
(you can skip Alexa calling and messaging if you don’t want to use that with your Echo).
Settings -> Accounts -> Voice, and follow the instructions.
Echo Plus: Same form factor as the original Echo device, but enhanced in many ways. It will act as the control center for the home. It can manage over 100 IoT home devices “out of the box” and without the Bluetooth fuss. A simple “Alexa, find my devices” will get them all hooked up. The big question is, when will we start to hear about cheeky neighbours going all Poltergeist on your living room lights, or worse?
Echo new generation: Same functionality of the original Echo device, but smaller, and covered in cloth (different colors). It will sell for $99, according to The Verge.
Echo Spot: Finally! Some years ago I fell in love with a device/idea called Chumby. It was some sort of potato shaped, Internet-enabled alarm clock. Sadly (or not!) I never got one. Echo Spot will fill that gap in my life. A device slightly bigger than a baseball with a nice screen that you can talk to, that can wake you up.
I foresee the Echo Spot being the bestseller of the 3. So for us devs, this means we must enhance our Skills with visual functionality (a.k.a. cards).
So Amazon Echo was launched in December 2015 and since then, 3 million devices have been sold…in the United States. It’s usual for Amazon not to announce their product roadmaps or launch plans, so we have simply no idea when (more than if) it will be launched in other English-speaking countries, or when Alexa will speak Spanish or Tagalog with us… Therefore, if you’re curious about Alexa Voice Services but you’re not based in the US, you’ll have to take some workarounds to play around with the technology.
There are two ways of speaking with Alexa via your Smartphone:
Roger Voice Messenger. By the people that previously built Spotify. You can add Alexa to its options. Also you can exchange opinions with Chewbacca. Free for Android and iOS.
The test tool on Amazon’s developer console: I’ll devote a full post for that, but it’s quite masochistic, unless you prefer JSON to speech.
Build yourself an Echo device with a Raspberry Pi. Here’s how they explain it from Amazon, here’s how they explain it from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. A colleague of mine tells me it’s totally doable. What you’ll need:
A Raspberry Pi 2 (model B) & typical complements (power cord, SD card, keyboard, mouse, USB Wi-Fi adaptor).
A USB 2.0 mini microphone.
A loudspeaker that works with a 3.5 mm jack (the usual one).
eBay. Not exactly the black market. There’s lots of Amazon Echos for sale out there. Good luck with Customs if you go down this route.