I've been "living" with an Amazon Echo and Alexa for a year now having imported from eBay while it was US based. It's an astonishing piece of kit that has to be experienced to see why it's a "game changer" and why Bezos the Amazon CEO calls it potentially the fourth core Amazon service line after its marketplace, cloud services and Amazon mobile device brands.
We have grown up with poor voice recognition and error prone requests on our mobile devices but Amazon started a full 12 months before Google on developing a high-precision microphone and voice recognition system that is built into its marketplace ecosystem. You can order pizza, pay a credit card bill, order books, check your diary, as well as listen to music and news. You can also ask and use the IFTTT integration function to also link to many home smart appliances across many brands such as switch lights on , set and check home security, switch hot water and heating on or off and control fridges , cookers , TVs and many other things all by simple voice commands.
The big difference here to understand is that it's voice recognition and algorithms that Amazon calls "skills" which range over 300 and growing, are far more integrated and sophisticated yet simple for users to do all these things will minimal setup. Because it's connected to the Amazon cloud and marketplace it has near instance voice response ( subject to your wifi speed but found it extremely fast) and can profile what is one if the major stepping stones of a home assistant that really is connected to many different services inside and outside the home.
This is a very significant development in the rise of the connect home that is one of the major next waves breaking as we move from the PC and mobile era to the smart devices in the home , work and places. This is the first successful product to bridge that gap with a working voice recognition service and connected sensors to your home and to a marketplace supply chain for services your needs.
It's early days but having lived with it one had to wonder how banks, retail and entertainment company might need to respond to this as it can disintermediate them by customers just speaking to their Echo Alex for service. It's what IT might call an aggregator and service broker platform that is the much spoken but mythical goal of many mobile manufacturers and home appliance makers as well as the Microsoft , Google and Facebook's who want to be the service of services.
The US feedback has been very strong from early adopters, Google have launched Google Home a full year late, and others are starting to talk of solutions.
The point that it does not have a screen is not relevant as when you use it , the voice interaction is natural and the issue is more in learning the range of "skills" it can do to help you.
The concerns of privacy are a factor in all these devices, this case would be through the existing security that Amazon web enables services that have and the existing commercial terms of products and services anyway,
This is a new interface this will push voice activated services as a possible "what will come next" along with the breaking concepts of virtual and augmented reality in 2017. This astonishing thing is that machine speech and the vision of a viable human interaction is arriving sooner that expected. It's a long way off artificial general intelligence which is a machine fully able to thing as a human this certainly is not; but the days of the keyboard and mouse are numbered.