Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Tales of the Echo: No, Thanks, Alexa

Tales of the Echo: No, Thanks, Alexa

By Dennis D. McDonald

Responding from an email from Amazon I asked Alexa what special deals Amazon Prime had for me. The ring at the top of my Echo glowed blue. Alexa reeled off a couple of electronic items along with their pricing and discounts. She asked if I wanted to order them. I declined both offers and went back to using my Echo as a high-quality Bluetooth speaker in my office streaming iTunes music via my MacBook Pro.

I enjoy the Echo’s sound quality, I can check the weather and set audio alarms by voice, and I can in a pinch use the voice interface to request, start, and pause music genres ("Latin jazz," "relaxing piano music," etc.)

Still, I'm not sure how far I'll take the Amazon services and interactivity that the Echo and Alexa can provide, especially if a long menu of items has to be navigated by voice.

I already subscribe to Apple's iTunes music service which provides an astonishing variety of all kinds of music I can stream to a variety of devices. Adding another subscription service from Amazon to supplement Prime's more restricted variety is not a priority right now.

Truth is, I'm not totally engaged with the Amazon ecosystem. Yes, I'm a Prime customer and buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. Plus, our household has an Echo, several Kindles (including a Kindle Fire), and the Fire TV Stick. We also have an Apple TV device, two Rokus, two iPhones, and a mix of Macintosh, Windows, Linux, and Chrome computers. Buying more infrastructure specific devices or services is not on my list of priorities given an already complex mix.

I do find myself using Siri a lot on my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. I also use the voice interface feature on my Comcast cable tuner to occasionally cut through the XFINITY interface nightmare.

Do I really want to start controlling my thermostat, lights, and other home appliances through an Amazon supplied interface, especially if I have to add more hardware in my home to provide such improved control?

My skepticism is not just because I already have a variety of services to manage. I have an older "legacy house" with multiple floors and features that require constant updating and repair; if for example you have a house with a hard-to-find and custom sized wooden shutters that need repair or replacement every couple of years, you know what I mean.

As slick as it is, the ultrasensitive Echo with its multiple microphones and high quality sound is not what I would call a "whole house" device. It usually sits in my upstairs office which is on the floor directly above our kitchen. If I'm working in the kitchen I know I can ask in a normal voice about, say, the weather. Nine times out of 10 Alexa will hear me. But usually I have the Echoe’s volume set so I won't hear Alexa from downstairs. (Besides, I usually have my phone with me so I just ask Siri.)

I can see how the Echo and Alexa will work in a single floor smaller dwelling or an apartment. Maybe I'm just not the target market; my wife and I are "empty-nesters" and are rattling around in a large old house for the time being.

I do see the promise of devices and systems like Echo and Alexa as younger generations adapt to and grow up depending on such technologies. My belief is that such technologies will have to be highly mobile (from home to car and back again) and will suffer if their primary perceived role is selling stuff, not providing service and support.

As long as I'm able to get around I don't mind getting up, walking over to the thermostat, and making adjustments by hand. I'll avoid the commercialization of such transactions as long as I can. I certainly do not want to hear my thermostat saying something like, "I see you just increased the night time temperature again; we have a terrific set of long underwear on sale in your size today; would you like to buy them?"

No thanks, Alexa.

Copyright © 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. A later version of this article was published by aNewDoman here.

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