Publication Date: 4/27/17 – This week Amazon announced the U.S. release* of a new Alexa device, which will initially be available to purchase by invitation only. This is a lot like when the original Echo was first announced. So now Alexa watchers are asking: what’s Echo Look? But I think the better question is: what could Echo Look become?
*For the time being this is a US-only launch, but UK folks shouldn’t be too annoyed. We Americans will be the ones to help Amazon work out all the early kinks so by the time it hits European shores, the Look should be a more stable and fully-functional device.
Fast Tips Friday Note: I normally run a Fast Tips feature on Fridays and premium subscribers will receive their weekly tips as usual, but this new device announcement seems to be the more urgent item to address today here on the site. Fast Tips will resume next Friday.
Amazon describes the Echo Look as a “Hands-Free Camera and Style Assistant”. You can watch a video demonstrating that type of functionality on the Echo Look preview page, where you can also sign up to request an invitation to purchase an Echo Look when it becomes available. I suspect the fashion coach features will ultimately be just one small part of the Look’s feature set.
Full disclaimer: I have no specific insider info about the Echo Look. I was as surprised as everyone else when that “sign up for an invitation to buy an Echo Look” email hit my inbox. Still, I do have some experience paying close attention to how Amazon handles its product and service rollouts as well as with some of the tech behind the Alexa family of devices. Based on that, here are my thoughts.
1. The touchscreen Alexa device we all heard about in leaked reports last November is probably still on the way.
With Echo, Dot and Tap, as well as the many flavors of Kindle reader and Fire tablet and various Amazon Music subscription options, Amazon has shown a willingness to market specific versions of devices and services to niche audiences. A touchscreen Alexa device would likely serve a different demographic than existing Alexa devices and the new Look.
2. This device is actually pretty brilliant, in terms of capturing the Instagram / Snapchat demographic, which is huge and growing.
It takes optimized selfies, both in still shot and short video form, uploads the images to an app via the cloud, and then lets you share the files. On the Echo Look’s preview page the only way people are shown using these functions is to look at, compare and share their outfits. But given what’s essentially an Alexa-enabled selfie cam with no selfie stick needed and built-in cloud upload and sharing features, do you really think that’s the only way owners will use it? More on that in the next bullet item.
3. Sure, it’s being initially marketed as a fashion mentor or some such, but look at the hardware.
It has a built-in digital camera that shoots both stills and full motion video, it has LED lights that serve as support for the cameras, it’s got the same mic/speaker functions as the original Echo and Dot, it’s integrated with both the Alexa app and its own Look app, and it has all the same Alexa capabilities as Echo and Dot—including internet/cloud connectivity.
We’ve already had confirmed reports that any new Alexa devices released this year will include a new voice recognition feature (to tell household members apart) and parental/security controls (so voice prints can be used to limit purchasing capability and smart home device control), so it seems likely that the Look will either ship with these features or get them soon after release via a software update.
Some are theorizing this device could also be upgraded into a smart home security system due to the camera, but my bet is that it will be upgraded into a video chat / voice call / intercom device sooner because all the necessary pieces are already there and Amazon knows this is a function (hands free calling) Alexa device owners want and WANT BAD. VoIP is a thing, and if it can power Skype it can power Echo Look voice calls and video chat. If Amazon doesn’t deliver this functionality soon after Look starts shipping, you can bet some maker types with Raspberry Pis and too much time on their hands will hack it together.
4. Remember when Echo first came out, and it was marketed primarily as a streaming audio speaker that “will keep getting smarter”?
I notice that Amazon has included the “keep getting smarter” language in the preview page copy for Echo Look too. When I think about all the hardware, firmware and software bells and whistles it’s got built in, I think the launch function of fashion advisor will be the least of its capabilities in the end.
5. I put in a request for an invite, mainly because I have an obligation to use and write about every Amazon Alexa device for my readers.
Having said that, something tells me this doo-dad is one I’ll be writing about repeatedly in the coming year as it “keeps getting smarter”.