Initially launched in the USA way back in November 2014, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant has been sadly absent here on the other side of the pond. This has now changed, however, with the launch of Alexa and a whole swathe of accompanying products here in the UK last week. These include the Amazon Echo unit (which we’ve seen featured before) and the new Amazon Echo Dot, which packs similar features into a much smaller physical footprint.
Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are voice-controlled speakers designed entirely around your voice […] Alexa is the brain behind Echo and Echo Dot
This is by no means the first example of a voice assistant that we’ve seen in the UK – Google’s Now assistant has been around for some time and Apple’s Siri is probably the most well-known of them all. What sets Alexa apart, however, is the fact that it uses a dedicated device to interact with the voice assistant as opposed to a phone or laptop – the Echo and Echo Dot products. Built-in microphones and ‘hotword detection’ allow for hands-free interactions with Alexa (such as checking your calendar or creating a shopping list), and the addition of audio outputs (both physical and Bluetooth) allows you to stream everything from Amazon’s own Prime Music to TuneIn Radio and Spotify.
Perhaps the most important question, however, is the price. The Amazon Echo is up for preorder at £149.99 while the Echo Dot is a slightly cheaper £99.99. Since this is a fairly unique product it is hard to determine what sort of value this represents – a standard Bluetooth speaker will only set you back £10 or so and the majority of phones will come with some sort of voice assistant as standard. What we could therefore be witnessing is a sort of ‘first adopters tax’ – products that are brand new to market will always be priced at a premium in order to cover manufacturing costs and the like. We also have competing devices due out in the near future – Google are releasing their own Home product in the very near future which will likely be pitched in direct competition to Alexa.
Unless you are well-connected to the Amazon product ecosystem and see real personal value in Alexa, it seems worthwhile to wait out this first wave of voice assistants. They will only improve with time, and the chances are that the price will drop as they become more common. Either that, or put your student loan to use – the timing almost seems too perfect!
Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are available for preorder now, and will being shipping on September 28th and October 20th respectively