Amazon Echo is a product line of hands-free speaker and virtual assistant devices that interact with an end user via the Amazon Alexa cloud-based voice service.
Echo devices connect to the Alexa service via the internet. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning technology, Alexa enables an Echo device to "listen" for user commands to perform a multitude of tasks, including playing music, answering questions, creating and editing to-do lists and setting a timer or alarm.
Amazon released its first-generation Echo in 2015; the 9.3-inch-tall, cylindrical speaker included seven microphones. Amazon's second-generation Echo speaker came in a slightly smaller cylindrical design.
The Amazon Echo product line now includes a number of devices, including the Echo Dot, Echo Plus and Echo Tap. Three other Echo devices -- Amazon Echo Show, Amazon Echo Spot and Amazon Echo Look -- add video display capabilities to the baseline Echo features.
How to operate Amazon Echo
An end user connects an Echo device to a Wi-Fi network, then chooses one of the following "wake words" to trigger the device and input a spoken command: Amazon, Echo, Alexa or Computer. An Echo device listens at all times, but only responds when a user addresses it directly with one of these words.
After users activate Amazon Echo with a wake word, the device can respond to user prompts, such as "What's the weather forecast?" or "Add this to my shopping list," along with a host of other tasks. An end user can also make purchases through his or her Amazon account.
Amazon Echo and Alexa
A business or developer can create voice-based applications, called Alexa skills, for an Echo device. The end user interacts with these skills on the device to request information -- such as the weather forecast, in the example above -- or to perform a variety tasks, such as order a product from a specific retailer. Echo supports a variety of skill types, including games and trivia, smart-home services, news, sports and weather.
The Alexa Skills Kit provides the tools and educational material to enable developers to create and hone skills. An end user can also browse skills via the internet or Alexa mobile app, then enable one with a voice request.
Alexa's deep learning capabilities enable an Echo device to grow its knowledge base and learn more about the end user through continued interaction. For example, the product can adapt to speech patterns, vocabularies, accents and personal preferences. Multiple end users can interact with a single Echo device, and Alexa can create an acoustic profile to identify different voices by name.
Additional Amazon Echo features
Amazon Echo and Alexa can integrate with a host of services, including those for music and television streaming, such as Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Fire TV. In addition to Echo, there are Alexa-enabled devices from vendors including Sony and DISH.
An end user can also configure and prompt an Echo to control Alexa-enabled smart-home products, which include thermostats, light bulbs, locks and refrigerators. The end user must connect a smart-home device to the same Wi-Fi network as the Echo to synchronize the two. An end user can manage connected appliances and devices via the Alexa app.
It's also possible to use an Echo device to place a phone call, or send a voice or text message. Echo also provides an intercom feature called Drop In, which enables a person to use the Alexa app to instantly establish a voice connection to an Echo device in another room.