When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone in 2007, he unveiled several major innovations — but the multitouch interface was by far the most important. It redefined the possibilities of mobile tech. Seven years later, Amazon debuted a product that may have an equally impressive input innovation. However, instead of being a sleek handheld gadget, it was a stark, voice-activated speaker.
Initially, the Amazon Echo was greeted with befuddlement and indifference. Like seeing a smartphone that lacked a hardware keyboard for the first time, a speaker that listened and spoke was a puzzling novelty.
After decades of science fiction movies and TV shows, you would think we would immediately recognize the importance of a talking, screen-free computer. That’s not what happened. Instead, the Amazon Echo was a slow-burn hit. It wasn’t until early adopters had them in their homes that the rave reviews started to circulate.
Even though the original Amazon Echo started to pick up steam relatively quickly, it was still encumbered by serious marketplace friction. Namely, it was a $190 smart speaker that didn’t provide above-average sound quality.
Most people already owned sound systems: Sonos speakers, Jawbones, smartphone docks, etc. Buying another was redundant. In order for the Echo to truly penetrate the mainstream, it needed to be less of an investment, and more of an add-on to an existing system.
The hit product that no one could buy
To seize the opportunity, Amazon announced the original Echo Dot in March of 2016. It was dramatically smaller and half the price of the original. I instantly wanted one.
However, I couldn’t buy it. The only way you could purchase the original Dot was by asking the larger Amazon Echo, or the Amazon Fire TV. Some viewed this as a marketing stunt. I was unconvinced. Good marketing tricks get you to buy something. This prohibited me.
Excitement for the Amazon Echo platform was at a fever pitch when the Echo Dot was announced. All of the stars aligned for Amazon to finally have a smash-hit hardware product; the truly rare kind that establishes you as the dominate “in every home” standard.
Everything was in place — except for the product itself.
I was waiting for original Echo Dot to hit the open market, but it wasn’t happening (it never ended up happening). One day, I found out that if you opened the Amazon iPhone app and used the speak-to-buy function, you could ask it to put an Echo Dot in your cart. This is exactly what I did, and it worked. Several weeks after I paid, the Dot arrived.
3000 features and we only use 3
It lives in our living room. It’s connected to my Sonos Play:5 speaker (clear instructions for how to use the Echo Dot with Sonos systems are in this post). We use it to play music, give us weather reports, and to read Wikipedia pages. That’s pretty much it.
Obviously, the Amazon Echo does far more than this, but, these three features alone make the device worth owning. It can’t be understated how wonderful it is to call out commands like: “Alexa, play some jazz.” “Alexa, turn up the volume.” “Alexa, skip to the next song.” “Alexa, stop.” That last command, in particular, makes you feel like an bonafide emperor.
As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll use the Dot for more tasks. I’d love to buy some Phillips Hue light bulbs and control them with my voice. It’s amazing to see a one-year-old try to control an Amazon Echo. I could see myself putting another Dot in the bedroom to use as a voice-activated alarm clock.
Amazon focuses on smart-home domination
The original Amazon Echo Dot sold out before it ever went on sale. Six months after its debut, it was gone. In its absence Amazon launched a vastly more ambitious product: the All-New Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation).
The $89 price of the original was replaced with $49. A significant drop. The rotating volume dial on the top of the original was replaced with Up and Down buttons, but this is actually an improvement. While not as sleek, the volume dial on the original required two hands to use: one to hold the base in place, the other to rotate the dial. Buttons make it more one-hand friendly.
If the forty dollar price cut wasn’t enough to convince you of Amazon’s ambitions, the fact that it’s available in 6 and 12-packs should (both at discounted, bulk prices). The mystery as to why the original Echo Dot wasn’t being pushed was suddenly clear. It was an awesome product at $89, but at $49, it becomes a silver bullet that just might strike the heart of the next great revolution in tech.
If you found this article interesting, you can support us simply by using the purchase links below. Also, on a recent episode of my podcast, we chat about the new 2nd Generation Echo Dot… Check it out here!
Amazon Echo Dot - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de
Amazon Echo (larger model) - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de
Sonos Play:5 - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr