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Smart home tech is still in its early days, but a new product from Amazon may help bring it into the mainstream.

Called Amazon Echo, it’s a cylindrical speaker that uses far-field voice recognition to pick up and respond to your commands. For now, it seems to function mostly as a personal assistant — akin to Siri or Google Now — but, assuming it takes off, the future could hold much more.

What Is Amazon Echo?

As you can see from the video, Amazon Echo may have the standard purpose of a speaker, but there’s so much more built into this little device.

A Bluetooth Speaker

At first glance, Echo looks like a typical Bluetooth speaker — and it serves that purpose quite well. You can play any song or playlist at just the right volume to suit the occasion perfectly.

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The device’s 360-degree firing speaker can play music from your phone or tablet via Bluetooth, and it has built-in support for Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

But Echo is so much more than a speaker.

A Personal Assistant

Under the hood lies an array of seven “always on” microphones that can hear your voice from any direction. When it detects the wake word — Alexa, by default — it lights up and sends your command to the cloud, where Echo quickly processes and responds to your request.

Echo is always listening, but it does have an onboard mute button in case that makes you uncomfortable.

As far as commands go, it’s similar to current smartphone-based assistants like Siri. You can ask about the weather, request a specific type of music or playlist, add an event to your calendar, and so on.

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Because its brain lives in the cloud, powered by Amazon Web Services, it continually learns and adds more functionality over time. And, perhaps more importantly, Amazon Echo is a standalone personal assistant. It’s not tied down by the baggage or technical limitations of a smartphone, which will likely make for a more intuitive product than its phone-based competitors.

Interestingly, the beauty isn’t in the feature set. What makes Echo great is that it’s completely hands-free, all the time. There are no buttons to press, and it doesn’t matter how close you are to the device. It takes everything we love about Siri Do More With Siri Using The New iOS 7 Siri Commands Do More With Siri Using The New iOS 7 Siri Commands If you find yourself fumbling with your iPhone to make a simple phone call, launch an app, set a reminder or wake-up alarm then you're probably not using Siri enough. Read More , Google Now, and Cortana, and removes that last little bit of friction.

Setup

Amazon Echo is super easy to set up. Just connect it to your home WiFi network and follow the setup process in the free companion app on Fire OS and Android, or desktop and iOS browsers. Once you’ve got it all ready, you can connect your devices to stream music via Bluetooth, or just give it verbal commands at any time.

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Simple enough, right?

The Future

I’m a fan of Amazon Echo as it exists today, but what really makes it interesting is what it could turn into.

The Face Of Smart Home Tech

Echo is the perfect starting point for what could become the face of smart home technology. Think about it: you could interact with all of the smart devices in your home by simply speaking to Echo.

“Turn off the lights in the kitchen.” Off go the lights.

“Set the heat to 72 degrees.” Done.

By always listening for spoken commands, Echo could facilitate process of controlling your smart home tech. No need to pull out your phone and use an app. Just ask.

Instant Amazon Orders

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Let’s not forget that this is a product by Amazon, and that Amazon is primarily an e-commerce company. Why would an e-commerce company want to make a product like Echo? For the same reason they want to make tablets and smartphones.

As TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak points out, Echo could remove the friction from shopping on Amazon:

You’ll be able to say “Alexa, order me a copy of Kung Fu Panda 2,” and it’ll be done.

“Alexa, order me some dope-ass high thread count egyptian cotton sheets.” Bam. Done. Sheets are on the way.

Of course that serves Amazon’s interests, and some folks would surely object, but wouldn’t it make your life easier if you could place an order just by saying it out loud? That would be awesome for both Amazon and its customers.

None of this is set in stone at this point, but there’s no doubt that Amazon will integrate shopping into the experience if it gains enough traction.

What do you think?

It’s up to the market to decide whether Amazon Echo succeeds or fails abysmally like the Fire Phone 5 Privacy Reasons Not To Buy An Amazon Smartphone 5 Privacy Reasons Not To Buy An Amazon Smartphone Are you considering a new smartphone? If you are, Amazon's Fire phone might be high on your list. But there are five privacy reasons why this might not be a good idea… Read More — but even if this particular device doesn’t take off, similar competing products are likely to pop up.

What about you? Can you see yourself using Amazon Echo or a similar device? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: CODE_n / Flickr

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