Amazon.coms 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 Amazons device, though, is elusive, and it faces stiff competition from competing services like Apple s Siri, Google s Now and Microsoft s 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 Googles Nest line of smoke detectors and thermostats and Apples 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 Echos new features rely on power outlets from Belkins WeMo unit and Hue light bulbs from Philips, both of which can connect to a homes 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 didnt say whether it would enable other companies devices to work in tandem with the Echo.
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