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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Amazon Hints at Smart Home Future Through Echo Device

Amazon’s Echo virtual assistant AMZN -0.43%’s Echo voice-activated device is starting to take shape.
The company is adding new capabilities to its Wi-Fi-connected speaker and virtual assistant, such as the ability to remotely operate lights and appliances. With just voice commands, for example, someone in bed could turn a television on and turn off the lights. Amazon informed Echo owners about the new services in an email Wednesday.
The $200 Echo is always on, like other Web-enabled devices, so that it can listen for its “wake word” (either Alexa or Amazon). It can scour the Web to answer questions, play music stored on remote servers and queue up customer orders through voice prompts.
The full potential for Amazon’s device, though, is elusive, and it faces stiff competition from competing services like Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. Still, a fully connected home has long been a coveted prize for tech firms. The so-called Internet of Things is powering a growing number of devices and services, including Google’s Nest line of smoke detectors and thermostats and Apple’s HomeKit software.
But the race to develop such “smart” homes has been complicated by competing goals from hardware makers, as well as challenges like inconsistent Internet service.
The Echo’s new features rely on power outlets from Belkin’s WeMo unit and Hue light bulbs from Philips, both of which can connect to a home’s Wi-Fi network. Amazon said three WeMo products, including a light switch, would work with the Echo, as well as five different Philips light bulbs. The Seattle-based company didn’t say whether it would enable other companies’ devices to work in tandem with the Echo

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