Amazon's Echo Show: The Future Is Here


Amazon recently launched its Echo Show, which brings a visual screen to its smart speaker device. The screen changes the Echo experience quite a bit, and I wonder whether we're ready to start living in what seems like a futuristic Star Trek world.

The Echo Show experience is sort of like having a laptop sitting on your table -- one that uses artificial intelligence, allows you to speak to it, speaks back to you, and shows you relevant things on its screen. It searches the Web for the answers you're seeking.

Think of Star Trek -- the Enterprise crew could speak to the computer and it would speak back to them and display things on a screen. Similarly, Amazon's AI assistant, Alexa, can respond orally to your spoken questions, and the Echo Show can display more information in response to your needs. It's very impressive.

This is the way we will use computing devices going forward. However, whenever a transformative device reaches the market, there's resistance. People are not always ready to embrace technology as quickly as it evolves.

One slice of the consumer pie consists of people who are ready to buy now -- those who like to play with new technologies and devices. They typically are early adopters who like to be on the cutting edge. Then, as time passes and more is written about a product and the mainstream becomes more comfortable with it, the next wave of consumers will jump in -- then the next, and so on.

Adoption will take years to fully unfold, and in the meantime, competitors will jump into the space. Google and Apple already have introduced audio-only Echo competitors. Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and many others quickly will enter this space as well. AI will get lots of media attention and continue to develop and be more useful.

In the coming years, more people will start to feel comfortable with this new technology. We will develop rules to live by with regard to technologies like this. Until then, there will be plenty of resistance -- and likely, plenty of embarrassing mistakes. Stories will be written about the way people screw things up and that will make us all laugh and even shy away, at least for a while.

Imagine getting a phone call on your new Amazon Echo Show. You answer the call as usual -- but now you are seen, not just heard. If you activate the Drop In feature, someone you have pre-approved can appear with just a few seconds warning.

For the first 10 seconds, you'll show up as a blurry vision. During that brief window, you can decide to continue with the call or hang up. If you continue, the picture clears up. However, this safety feature may not be enough for many users. Many will be caught off-guard.

Some may feel that having an Echo Show means always having to be presentable -- not going near the unit unless they're nicely dressed with hair combed. For them, using the Drop In feature on Show may feel like being in one continuous on-again, off-again video conference.

Others might be less concerned about their appearance on a video call -- but you might rather not see your grandmother in her bathrobe with hair in curlers.

Aside from Drop In privacy gaffes, some users be tempted to walk on the wild side -- intrigued by the possibility of planned intimate encounters. Imagine Echo Show connecting you with your lover in another location. Just imagine what you could do. Then again, would you really feel free to explore the possibilities, knowing that everything is transmitted over the Internet and stored on Amazon servers? That means your "private" videos someday could become public. Still interested?

What about cybersecurity? In other countries, bank and hospital computer systems recently have been impacted by cyberhacks with the potential of impacting every citizen. Imagine if the bad guys were to target power, water, transportation, or communications systems -- or anything else?

Hypothetically, they also could break into Amazon's servers and take your records. That would suggest that the Echo Show's security must be top of mind -- but is it? Is our security protected when using Amazon's Echo Show?

For me, the bottom line is that I love AI. I love the idea of Amazon's Echo Show and I'd love to see more products competing with it. I love what this technology is evolving into and where it will take us.

However, all the things that can and will go wrong are worrisome -- from simple things like accidentally being seen naked on a video call to more complicated things, like bad guys jumping in and stealing information and data.

Are we ready for Amazon Echo Show? Well no -- but that's never stopped us before. My advice is to enjoy it -- just be careful. It still has plenty of sharp edges, and you could get cut. Still, that's what being an early adopter means, right? Now if only I could get my hands on a real phaser.

Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.

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