Home Technology–Amazon Moves Fast

Amazon’s surprisingly successful (relatively speaking) line of Echo products just added a new member of the family.  As Google pokes along trying to make the Home relevant, and Microsoft won’t enter the market until the Fall with Harmon Kardon’s Invoke, Amazon already has the original Echo, the Echo Dot, the Echo Look (which is a camera that will help you shop for clothes), and the Tap. In addition, certain Fire TVs have Alexa built in, as does the Amazon app on many Smart Phones.

Amazon, in other words, has moved very aggressively to put its voice-recognition in your hands as quickly as possible. And now Amazon has debuted the Echo Show.  The Show is a touch screen-enable version of Alexa, and there’s potentially some interesting functionality. According to Amazon, you can watch some videos, see music lyrics, enable security cameras, use it as a home-intercom device, and even make video calls to other Show devices.

Aesthetically Displeasing

Right off the bat, though, it’s clear this is very much a first-gen product. Where the Echo, Dot, and Tap are aesthetically pleasing cylinders with glowing-blue orbs, the Show is…so very retro. And, in my opinion, not a good way.  Obviously, the cylindrical form factor doesn’t work well for a video-based device, but… surely there was a better design out there than what’s being offered.

Amazon Show
Amazon’s Echo Show

To me, it looks like a Macintosh Classic that’s been squished.

Mac Classic
The Macintosh Classic

Privacy Concerns for Amazon

Of course, any discussion of the Echo–and, really, of any of these always-listening home assistants–needs to include concerns for the privacy of the home user.

Last year, law enforcement officers in Arkansas sought to obtain data from Amazon in the middle of a murder investigation because they believed that the Echo–or Amazon’s servers– might have recorded evidence. With the addition of video capabilities to these devices, consumers need to be confident that their movements in the home aren’t being monitored. (The same concerns go for things like the Kinect, anyone’s laptop, webcams, et cetera.)

The Freeconomy Malaise

At the beginning of this month, I mentioned some of the open-source leeching going on, along with mentioning Wired‘s article, “Free.”  Well, “Free” is back in the news again, and not so much in the way that it probably wants to be.

Gawker.com is all over recent reports that Wired‘s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, contains a number of straight lifts right out of Wikipedia.  Putting aside for the moment the propriety of using Wikipedia as definitive proof of anything, the problems with doing so I’ve mentioned before, it’s of course ironic that there’s a lot of hullabaloo surrounding using free content in a book about the economics of free.  It probably bears mentioning, that Wikipedia, like many organizations, such as Gawker media, publishes under the CCL which means that contributors allow their work to be freely used, so long as the use is attributed and that the derivative work is then allowed to be freely used:  “To grow the commons of free knowledge and free culture, all users contributing to Wikimedia projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, as long as the use is attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute applies to any derivative works.”  (Source)  For Mr. Anderson, the issue appears to be whether there was proper attribution of the material allegedly lifted, and as a logical extension, whether he would then allow the use of the material he used in a free manner.  It’s a fascinating dilemma in many ways.  To me, anyway.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I find myself so fascinated by the whole thing is that I recently read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, published in 1992 (yeah, I know Amazon is saying 2000, but that’s just for the edition to which I linked), and it was incredibly prescient in almost all respects (okay, so we don’t have rat-things …. yet, or burbclaves …. yet) except for one area.  In Snow Crash, people pay–sometimes, a lot–for information.  I also recently listened to the book-on-CD of Douglas Adams’ quasi-posthumous work, The Salmon of Doubt.  One of Mr. Adams’ suppositions as he was writing at the end of the 90s was that individuals would be willing to make micropayments for content.  That is clearly not the case today. Somebody pays for the information, but it seems rarely to be the end-user.  At least in the dead-tree media days, subscribers would defray some of the cost of publication, but these days the cost is almost exclusively placed on advertisers and content-generators willing to receive little to no compensation for their work, all in the name of trying to get noticed in some form or fashion.  Gawker, to its credit I think, has pointed out the way this can be problematic.  (This is not to say that Gawker Media, as shown by Gizmodo’s call-for-intern, is paying its interns splendiferous salaries.)

As we move along in this terrible economy, it really does make me wonder what the end game will be.

Oh, and to satisfy the FTC, links to Snow Crash and The Salmon of Doubt, are not made as part of Amazon’s affiliate program.  And if you don’t like Amazon, here are links to B&N.com’s site for the respective works:  Snow Crash; The Salmon of Doubt (MP3 download).  I am not part of an affiliate program with B&N, either.

This is where we’re going…

CNET (and, as of 9:06a central, a few others) are talking about ZillionTV (link here or here), which purports to stream television shows and movies to you, without the need for subscription fees.  (ZillionTV will get its money through ads and/or rental fees and/or purchasing fees.)

This makes total sense.  Just as landlines are becoming things of the past, so will cable or satellite.  No doubt, the picture quality from cable or satellite is much better than streaming video via services like Hulu and Netflix, but the convenience factor can’t be denied.

There’s also one other benefit that may be realized as companies like Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix strengthen their profits: the reduction of piracy.  What incentive is there to spend the time downloading the content when it can be streamed to your computer almost instantly, with little cost, and with little interruption?