Well this one came out of nowhere: Amazon is building a speaker that's controlled with your voice. It's called Echo, and Amazon tells The Verge it will be "shipping in the coming weeks." Available on an invite-only basis to start, Echo is regularly priced at $199. But for a limited time, Amazon will offer Echo for $99 to Prime members who receive an invite. Amazon says the black, cylindrical speaker is always connected to the cloud and will provide information, music, news, weather, and more whenever you ask for it. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from Google — only it's an Amazon product.
The built-in voice recognition can hear users from across the room, according to Amazon, essentially acting as a Siri-like personal assistant crammed inside a speaker. It listens to user requests using seven microphones and can understand your voice even while playing music. "These sensors use beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction," reads the product's page. The speaker also produces 360-degree audio to fill an entire room. It'll play music from Amazon Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn Plus. And it's fully Bluetooth compatible, making playback from Spotify, Pandora, and other audio apps possible. Companion smartphone apps on Android and Fire OS will launch upon availability to help buyers set up and get started with the speaker, but everyone else (including iOS users) will need to access it via a web app. Amazon tells The Verge that a dedicated iOS app is in the works.
Echo, easily one of Amazon's most ambitious products to date, is designed to make life easier for users, instantly playing music from your cloud library or telling you the local weather. You can quiz it with general questions and get answers from Wikipedia. Of course, Siri, Google Now, and Cortana can accomplish similar tasks on your smartphone — but Amazon seems to think there's a place in the living room for something like this (and separate from the TV). Amazon's assistant has a name too: Alexa. That's the phrase you'll use to wake up the always-on speaker. Echo won't run on batteries, which is another hint that Amazon wants this in your home all the time.