By Dan Moren
January 12, 2016 7:58 AM PT
Amazon is working on a portable Echo
Would an Echo by any other name sound as sweet?
According to no less a source than the estimable Wall Street Journal (paywall), Amazon’s planning on releasing a smaller, portable version of its Echo speaker-slash-voice-assistant—currently codenamed “Fox”—in the coming weeks.
Being portable, it will naturally be able to rely on battery power rather than having to be tethered to a power cord. Thumbs up, I say! But that will come, of course, with attendant limitations:
Unlike the Echo, which must always be plugged in to listen for voice commands, Fox can be charged on a docking station and responds to voice command only by pushing a button, a necessary compromise to preserve battery life.
Thumbs down. Yes, clearly there are tradeoffs to using battery power. This is pretty much the same deal we had when Apple first added “Hey Siri” functionality to iOS. But the joy of the Echo is that it doesn’t require any physical interaction. There is a button you can press on top of the device to make it listen, but I can count the number of times I’ve used it on one hand.
Still, I’m interested in the portable Echo. In particular, I’ve been thinking that it could replace the ancient AM/FM radio in my bathroom, letting me get my morning news briefing while I’m in the shower.1 But I don’t really want to have to lean out and hit a button while I’m in the shower, so the lack of voice-trigger is kind of a bummer. Still, perhaps Amazon will be able to come up with a solution similar to what Apple has managed to do with the iPhone 6s and eventually develop a more power-friendly version of the feature.
The other thing that makes me scratch my head is the focus on portability. The Echo really requires an Internet connection to shine. If Fox is truly portable, is Amazon expecting you to, say, tether it to your smartphone’s connection? Or to manually manage joining different Wi-Fi networks? Or does the company simply see Fox as a way to sell those customers who don’t have a convenient power outlet to place an Echo near?
The Journal also says that Fox will be cheaper than the Echo, to try and drive more adoption of the platform, though I wonder about the efficacy of using it as a gateway-product, given how little ancillary revenue seems to be derived via the Echo—I’ve still yet to buy anything from Amazon with or because of my Echo.
All of that said, I still love my Echo—there’s a reason it was my top gadget of 2015—and I’ll be interested to see whether Amazon can repeat its success.
The battery power part is critical here, because there’s no power outlet nearby. My current radio is battery-operated and chews through AAs like a mynock through power cables. ↩
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