Life Changer: Lessons in IoT From the Amazon Echo Experience

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Many people look at Amazon Echo as a precursor to the types of devices we’ll be using as the IoT becomes reality, so what have we learned?

With the Internet of Things (IoT) poised to dominate the marketplace over the next decade or more, there’s a great deal of excitement surrounding the potential of IoT devices.

Many experts have made grand predictions about how our lives will change, especially as nearly everything we use is connected to the Internet and each other.

Will those predictions come true? Only time will tell, of course, but to get a more accurate picture of what the IoT and related devices have in store for us, we can always look toward those devices that have been forging ahead, carving out a new path for the future.

This goes beyond looking at our smartphones and extends to the likes of wearable devices and Amazon Echo. Many people look at Amazon Echo as a precursor to the types of devices we’ll be using as the IoT becomes a reality, so what have we learned in the past year or so that the Echo has been widely available?

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Quantifying the impact of the Amazon Echo is a bit difficult to do. It hasn’t been a runaway success like some had hoped, but it can be argued that wasn’t the initial intent. It also can’t be called a failure because it still remains an influential product that has room to grow and evolve.

That was part of the whole purpose behind the Echo’s design in the first place. So what we have is a preliminary IoT device that sets the first standards for similar future gadgets. The Echo is almost like a blank slate with some fairly basic features at the outset that can be greatly expanded upon.

What Is Echo?

Even defining what the Echo is can be tricky. On the surface, it’s a voice command device that can play music, set alarms, provide weather and traffic updates, and even stream podcasts. The Echo’s abilities go even beyond that, though, to the point where it can also interact with and control other smart devices.

However one defines it, one of the appeals of the Amazon Echo is the ability to program it to perform certain new functions. This can be done through the Amazon’s companion Alexa app, but it does present a number of complications. The biggest is that for the Echo to perform these new functions, it requires end-users to essentially become developers.

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It’s an idea that makes sense for those companies and startups looking to develop their own IoT products, but for the average consumer, expecting them to be able to write their own skills with Alexa may be taking things too far. Core functionality of an IoT device should be easy for consumers, not a barrier that requires extra effort to overcome.

Task integration is, of course, not always the easiest function to make accessible, but some platforms have been able to do this through easy-to-use interfaces and simple drag and drop menus, all of which are absent from the Echo. Without these user friendly features, the Amazon Echo and other IoT devices will only be able to cater to a small audience.

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How Can It Improve?

Beyond a device’s capabilities, IoT developers and startups will need to take into account security and privacy concerns. This is one of the criticisms leveled at the Echo. Many people expressed worries that the Echo would listen in on and record private conversations. Amazon insisted that the Echo only activates when a specific “wake word” is spoken, but the device still has to be listening for that word in the first place.

There’s always the worry that if a device such as the Echo is hacked, which is a real possibility, any cyber criminal would be able to listen to conversations taking place around the device. The Echo may also be used to pick up on other signs of activity inside a home or workplace, such as footsteps.

Final Words

As we’ve seen, IoT devices can be used to make everyday tasks more convenient and interactive. The Echo helped realize this goal in various ways, but it was by no means a perfect device.

The Internet of Things helps companies explore the challenges and opportunities with big data and other concepts, and as long as the industry is constantly learning, progress will be made. The Amazon Echo is only the beginning of what could be a transformative time in technology.

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