The conversational interface in its ghetto

As a relatively late early adopter to Amazon Echo, I have to admit that the product really does feel as per Arthur C Clarke's quote ("Any suitably advanced technology looks like magic"). Much more than Nest or WeMo or August Lock or even Sonos, watching the overgrown Bluetooth speaker point its Cylon-like light at wherever you happen to be talking from and immediately reach back into the cloud to recognize what you are saying and then serve it out of one of a few deep repositories (some of them transactional) makes it feel like it represents most of the interfaces of the home of the future today. And what is most amazing is that as a user, you don't miss the lack of a screen at all.

At $180 it is too expensive but as with the Kindle hardware, there is no doubt the price will come down over time (having already come down 10% in 10 months at what must be minuscule volumes). More to the point, most of the smarts are living and benefitting from cloud economics so the overall cost of delivering an improving service will also come down in price.

Here is the catch (and the reason why I held off for so long): with the Amazon Echo, you've got the future in your kitchen but that expansive, mind bending future is ghettoed to whatever services Amazon provides and/or is willing to partner with. Thus, no Spotify. No Apple iTunes and no Sonos. If you want to buy something, it is Amazon or nothing and there is zero Google in any of the services (who does traffic today without going to Waze?!?). This is a terrible future— one where every service is a silo that requires its own hardware for access and provides a limited view of the world— just ask anyone who has done the Name-Your-SetTop-Box hide-and-seek game of searching 4-5 services for a particular thing to watch. Except that in that case you do have a screen to get feedback— in the case of the Echo, it's just a disembodied 2001 voice telling you that it either didn't understand your request or that it simply isn't available.

The glimmer of hope, and what convinced me to give the Echo a shot, is the API (which is cleverly thought out). Let's just hope Amazon tries the whole partner broadly and listen to the users strategy rather than making this tiny and awesome bit of future be the victim of their strategy tax.