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Top 10 Things Amazon Echo Can't Do Yet

Krzysztof is a lifelong future tech junkie investigating the latest stories from companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Amazon.

Amazon Echo's Missing Pieces

Amazon Echo can do some amazing things, like play music, create your shopping or to/do lists, get you an Uber, or order a pizza. But there are a lot of things missing.

As popular as the product has been, it's not going to become as popular as a smartphone unless it can offer more spectacular and useful features.

These are the ten things Amazon Echo needs to become more than a semi-useful, novelty device.

10. Multi-language Support

Alexa is only available in English, German, and Japanese which immediately limits its global reach. There has to be a way for the Echo to communicate with you in other languages.

And that's not all: the device should also be able to translate other languages flawlessly, the way that Google Translate does.

There are a few third-party "skills" available for Echo that try to translate, but they are very poor and inefficient. You can't even configure more complex words or languages, and it's much easier to use your phone.

The goal would be for Alexa to support 50 common languages and become an expert translator like Google.

Update: Alexa's arrival in the UK, Germany, and Japan was the start of more language/accent integration, and soon more native translation support could be in store for Amazon Echo devices. Other languages in the works include French, Spanish, and a few Indian languages.

9. Smartphone Extension

Alexa Voice calling and messaging is now available on Amazon Echo devices, the Alexa app, and to mobile phones.

Video calling is also available for the Echo Show and Echo Spot. When calling or receiving a call the Echo's light ring will turn green and yellow for text messages/notifications.

However this is not a flawless feature, and it definitely won't substitute your smartphone because you can't call 911, send MMS, make group calls, send group texts, use your landline phone (need to purchase Echo Connect accessory), and receive/read messages sent back to you.

It's also awkward when you have to shout "Alexa stop" to end your call, and I don't like that there's a link to your voice message whenever you ask her to send an SMS to another mobile phone. I would prefer if they only received the message.

So yeah there's a lot to be desired with this feature, and they have a long way to go before it becomes more useful, but at least we're getting there.

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8. Portable Wireless Charging

For a product built to stay inside the home, wouldn't it make sense to enable wireless charging for the Echo?

To me it seems archaic for the device to always have to be plugged in via wire and adapter. You should be able to place her on a circular charging station and charge if needed.

The Echo should also have her own battery that can stay charged for a certain amount, so you can at least place her anywhere within your home.

This is the next step for the product, and it would be foolish if Amazon did not go the wireless charging route.

Update: There are numerous third party accessories that are making Echo devices more and more portable including battery attachments and charging cases.

The Amazon Tap is the best portable Echo device available because it already comes with a charging case, however; be aware that the battery only lasts between 6-8 hours on a full charge.

7. Battery Case + LTE Support

The Amazon Tap was a good idea, but it would've made sense to include charging cases for other Alexa products.

You do have the option to buy third-party cases, but those may be too bulky and unreliable. It would be better if Amazon created their own battery cases for all their Alexa devices like the Dot, the Echo Show, Spot, and the Amazon Echo.

Unfortunately even a battery case wouldn't be able to solve the portability issue unless there was LTE support. Yeah the Tap can function as a speaker outside the home, but what good does that do if you can't get Alexa to work.

It would be nice of Amazon to include a subscription tier across their Alexa platform if you want to use your products outside the home. I could see how beneficial this could be at barbecues and parties, and it would vastly increase the capabilities of these gadgets.

Perhaps the 3rd Generation will address those concerns and finally gives us the ultimate Echo device.

6. Smart Alexa Router

We've already seen how the Echo Plus can house its own smart hub, so why not have an Echo that functions as a WiFi router too.

Imagine how useful an Echo would be if it functioned as a smart home hub, an Alexa device, and a WiFi router. It would also make perfect sense given how much the platform needs a connection to work properly, and smart devices are already being integrated into home WiFi networks.

It wouldn't take much to add an Alexa functionality to it, and have them all work together. In fact given how many devices are adopting the Alexa platform, it's only a matter of time before she works her way into your router.

If Amazon plays their cards right, then this could be the best way to entice more people to buy into their ecosystem and the internet of things (smart home).

5. Smarter Voice Assistant

The Google Home may soon surpass the Echo, and the main reason is the Google Assistant.

Many people who have an Amazon Echo today don't use it to control smart devices because they either don't have any, don't want any, or can't afford them. Instead they use it as an occasional music player and informative assistant, like Siri or Google.

Unfortunately Alexa can't answer many questions, and while there are individual "skills" that might help, there's way too many of them to go through.

  • Alexa needs to get smarter, it's that simple.

Future updates are expected to address those concerns by integrating more and more skills into her AI via machine learning.

The hope is that eventually she'll be able to answer your questions quickly by combing through 30,000+ skills. Right now she can only recommend skills that may answer your queries, but nobody wants to spend extra time finding answers to a simple question.

Alexa can also remember things you've asked her, but it's a very jagged feature. For one, she should be able to remember things automatically without you having to say "Alexa, remember..." and second, she'll often say the wrong things/names you've asked her to learn.

In their present form, none of those additions are good enough to beat the Google Assistant.

4. Visual Projector

When I saw the concept of Sony's Xperia Agent, I was immediately intrigued at what it could do.

The Agent has a built-in projector that can project images onto a surface, including the time, temperature, or a full calendar. That is such a cool idea! Future iterations of the Echo need to have this ability.

Visual imagery is very important, and sometimes it helps get the point across when spoken words won't do the trick. There are so many types of ideas, from games to recipes, that could be projected visually for instant understanding.

We could also combine calling and texting with projection so you can FaceTime or Skype with somebody using any surface to see them. Perhaps you can even see their photos, Instagram pics, and other visual messages.

Voice activation with calling, texting, and a projector?

Now that's the future.

Update: The Echo Show is a large tablet-like touchscreen device that expands the visual medium allowing you to view detailed weather reports, recipes, song lyrics, and play Amazon videos. The alarm clock-like Echo Spot is another touchscreen Alexa device that utilizes its smaller 2.5" screen for visual interactions and video calls.

None of these devices can be used as projectors, but they're an important step towards developing that feature.

3. Customize the Appearance of Amazon Echo

As we've learned with smartwatches and our phones, the design is very important.

Although the Echo isn't meant to be taken outside your home, you have to place it somewhere. I don't mind the original design of the product, but it may look out of place in some homes especially since it only comes in two colors (black or white).

I wish there was a way you could change the external design instead of just adding a leather skin. When you have guests come over, your Echo shouldn't stand out like a sore thumb.

It should be discreet and in the background. It should blend into your home instead of looking like something from science fiction.

Think of the movie "Her" and how technology was never in the foreground there. That should be the goal of futuristic products like the Amazon Echo.

Update: The 2nd generation Echo now comes in six new colors and fabric designs including charcoal, heather gray, sandstone, and oak, silver and walnut finishes.

2. Facial Recognition

I understand how this feature might appear creepy, but anything new is going to seem unusual.

I also understand the privacy concerns, but keep in mind that we use things like smartphones and laptops that have always had privacy risks. This won't be that different.

Your personal assistant should be able to recognize you by your voice and the way you look, so that it can provide the most up-to-date information about anything you want.

  • It can also be used as a special security feature.

Let's say an intruder enters your home, and your Echo has the ability to recognize that this person is a stranger. The device could then notify you, or even call for help.

A security feature would need a lot of updates, so it can tell the good from the bad, but its an intriguing possibility.

Update: Amazon's new Echo Look has the ability to take pictures and videos of you and send them to your phone. Its AI is also capable of telling you which outfit looks best on you.

The Echo Spot and Echo Show have screens, which can eventually be used for full facial recognition. In fact you can even use the Show to access live footage of your home on your phone.

Can you imagine the possibilities if Alexa becomes a true AI companion someday?

1. Alexa Chatbot

Alexa is nice to have around the house, but right now she can only answer simple questions and perform basic commands.

She's also not a conversationalist, and even the Alex chatbot competition that promises to make her more chatty hasn't really worked out.

You can try chatting with Alexa if you say "Alexa, Let's Chat".

I've tried it a few times, and it's basically a slightly more curated flash briefing option. She'll usually ask which topics I'd like to talk about and then give me info about said topic.

Supposedly these chat bots are randomized whenever you ask her to chat, but I haven't noticed major differences. And yet Amazon has the potential to create a truly conversational AI that can talk to people in need.

Can you imagine the possibilities if Alexa becomes a true AI companion someday?

She'll be able to help people suffering with anxiety or depression, converse with the elderly or lonely people, and potentially save lives. With rapidly rising suicide rates, it would nice if Alexa could at least provide a friendly interface to talk to. Perhaps she'll call for assistance in the most dire circumstances.

I realize this is a stretch goal, but with rapid advancements in AI, it's certainly a possibility.

Your Turn

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: When will Alexa be available in Spanish?

Answer: I've been going through developer blogs and trying to reach out to Alexa developers, and I've been told that there are developments for a Spanish version of Alexa in 2018.

I'm not sure exactly when this will happen, but Alexa and the Echo speakers have been gradually expanding outside the US with several different versions already in development.

Hopefully, we'll see a Spanish version soon.

Question: Which of these can Alexa not do?

Answer: I originally wrote this about two years ago, so a lot has changed in that time. I'll be fully updating more things she can't do, and I'd love to hear some requests from viewers about what you'd like her to do (as long as it's appropriate of course).

For now, her language capabilities are still very limited. I'd like her to become a universal translator, and to be capable of multiple languages that you can change in the Alexa app settings.

I'd also like a more advanced version of the Echo Show with full projection capabilities. I want the devices to be fully portable without reliance on any cables or third-party add-ons. And most of all, I'd like her AI to improve substantially.

Question: When will Alexa be available in Tamil Language?

Answer: Given their expansion into other countries, I expect at least broader languages native to that country would follow within 6-12 months.

So far the languages available are English (India) English (Australia) English (Canada & UK), German, Japanese.

The next most likely language will be Hindi in late 2018 or 2019.

Question: How many languages does Alexa speak?

Answer: I believe she can speak English (US/UK/CA), German, and Japanese. She can support up to five dialects from Australia, Canada, India, UK, and the US. Spanish will likely be the next option if she doesn't have it already.

Question: Can the Amazon Echo call Skype?

Answer: As far as I know, you can only call landlines using the Echo Connect accessory, other Echo devices (through the Alexa app), or mobile phone lines only.

Question: Do I need to buy two Alexa speakers so it can hear me from downstairs?

Answer: Alexa's current voice recognition range is about 10-15 feet, so chances are you'll need at least two of them if you have a large home or multiple levels in your house.

Your best and most affordable bet is getting two Echo Dot speakers; they usually sell for $50 but are often discounted for $30-40 on Amazon.

With two Echo Dots, you can use the intercom feature to communicate with them or simply have easy access and the range to ask her a question. To learn more go to your Alexa app, hit the three bars next to settings, and tap the "things to try" tab.

You'll get information about voice calling, drop-in for intercoms, announcements, and pretty much everything else Alexa is capable of.

Question: When I sync my amp with my Bluetooth speaker, it will connect for a minute then disconnect. Why?

Answer: The cause could be a faulty connection or an obstruction among the devices. I would try unplugging both and try again. If they're too far apart, that could also explain the disruption.

It could also be the device you're trying to connect with; older or damaged devices (amp or speaker) could be the culprit.

Question: Why won't Alexa accept some commands? It will default to German (my Amazon account is in Germany) when I speak to it in English. I live in the UK. It is country specific, and it suggests that Amazon is more interested in selling stuff than great CMR experience.

Answer: I know that Amazon Alexa is still very new to international countries, and is probably only tied down to the country they choose to get established in.

I'm sorry about this. Hopefully, Amazon provides a fix eventually. What they should do is a have an option in the settings that can allow you to change Alexa to the country or language of your choosing, not based on where your account was created.

Comments

NikkiRoxi on June 20, 2018:

French was released last week and Beta Testing has already started for Spanish and Italy.

French

https://venturebeat.com/2018/06/05/amazon-echo-spe...

Spanish and Italian

https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/19/amazon-is-bringi...

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on April 23, 2018:

They are really on top of their game when it comes to Alexa updates, the intensifying competition has really helped as well.

I still think they need to streamline a lot of things for people to use smart speakers more often especially when it comes to third party integration and Alexa skills.

NikkiRoxi on April 16, 2018:

I'm still enjoying my Echo Devices. Since I first got one then addded on more Echo devices, Amazon has added more and more features so I can’t complain. They are doing their best to keep up with the constant consumer demands for this or that feature. I know I’ve sent them plenty, but it dawned on me I know I am not the only person making requests and they have to prioritize and then need to test out these features before pushing it out to us. So I’ve taken a step back in being so demanding.

Eileen on January 09, 2018:

This is an excellent, informative article. I have the Echo (Alexa) and while it is impressive technology, I wanted more from it than what it offers. I found this article in a search for features I wanted from Alexa but couldn't find. It's solidified my impression that there is more "fluff" to Alexa than actual utility related to my hopes for the device. I am now hoping the SONY Xperia Agent, when available in the US, will live up to it's hype, my pricepoint, and my expectations. I'd like to see more universal calendar connectivity, ESL user improvements, and almost all of above-mentioned enhancements!

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on January 08, 2018:

The skills moving forward are going to be a lot more premium, similar to the App Store, which will make them more interesting but could also turn a lot of people off. I know developers want to make money off their Alexa skills and I don't blame them, but it's still a minefield right now.

I would love a list of skill choices when the answers aren't clear.

NikkiRoxi on January 05, 2018:

As I was re reading your list. The thought popped into my head it would be nice if Alexa could give you a list of choices for Skills based on what you've asked. But you are right it would still be better if this was baked in an App rather than an extension. Amazon could do more. Skills are a wonderful idea if you only had just 100 of them to choose from, but more than that, it becomes too much.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on October 17, 2017:

Yes I agree, the skills should serve as apps rather than an extension of Alexa's AI. Her overall intelligence should not have to come down to which skill you can remember. I read that Amazon plans on offering skill selections if the AI can't answer your request, but I feel they need to go beyond that to get more people invested.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on October 17, 2017:

I do love the competition these products are getting because it prevents companies from becoming too lax. Amazon has a big lead but I agree that their lead would've been exponential had they not waited so long for these upgrades.

NikkiRoxi on October 12, 2017:

I cannot wait till Amazon improves its AI to answer questions more fluidly, when it can respond the way humans do when asked a question even if the question wasn't phrased correctly. I agree I want to get rid of all the Skills, because you have to remember the command to launch that Skill. Amazon can request that the Skill developer allow them to incorporate that skill into the Software behind Alexa. The fewer words used to get her to do what you want the better.

NikkiRoxi on October 12, 2017:

I am glad you updated this article to include the recent updates to the Alexa software. We got some of our wishes. My only gripe with Amazon is that it took Google to compete with them for them to do it. They have had this device out so much longer than anyone else. They should have had some of these features already. But at the same token I am glad they are including them, better late than never.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on September 01, 2017:

I'm an optimist but yes there are still a ton of issues when it comes to translation however it's ahead of most translation services that aren't premium.

Dave Hedgehog on August 31, 2017:

I couldn't help but burst out laughing when I read "translate other languages flawlessly the way that Google Translate does".

GT is fine for single words (unless they're Welsh), but give it anything as complex as an entire sentence and it's next to useless.

Flakes on August 27, 2017:

Woukdn't mind being able to play foreign music. I can't say "Alexa, 'play Je t'aim, moi non plus by gainsbourg' or even 'Alexa play Seu Jorg' and for some reason saying 'Alexa play Despacito' brings up the Justin Beiber english versuon rather than the Daddy Yankee Spanish one.

It would also be nice to be able to create and add things to play lists on the fly

Tom Markel on August 17, 2017:

English and German

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on February 15, 2017:

That's interesting because she did give me the answer however I don't recall her doing so when I first purchased my device. Perhaps the AI is starting to get a lot more intelligent.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on February 11, 2017:

They'll release hardware upgrades but Amazon isn't like Apple and most of their upgrades will stay on the software side. So those with current Echo products should be just fine as they are very capable of getting those updates.

NikkiRoxi on February 10, 2017:

Cranie2000 I read your comment last week and I meant to come back sooner to reply. I tested my Alexa and asked her simply what is 2+2+6 and she gave me the answer. Why do you feel she cannot do such a thing? Maybe it was the way you asked her.

NikkiRoxi on February 10, 2017:

I don't want to feel pressure to upgrade the Echo Dot I already have. I sure hope they just create more features and update the software. I don't want Amazon to become like Apple by coming out with a new device thus making people feel the need to upgrade in order to get the latest software or new feature they have rolled out.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on February 04, 2017:

It's nice to hear you're having such a great experience and I agree that it would be nice to know what's arriving next. It would be amazing if I could ask Alexa to text someone or call someone just like I would on my phone seamlessly. Hopefully we see more of that later this year or perhaps when the new Echo launches. The new Echo may have a touchscreen which could lead to a lot more accessible feature although I still would want a projection option. I would hold off and see when the new Echo launches as I have a feeling it'll be later this year.

NikkiRoxi on February 03, 2017:

I am new to the Echo world. I just got mine for Christmas 2016, a gift to myself. I agree with everything you wrote there. My top three wishes for the Echo is Calling and Texting, Multiroom Support and having a Powerful AI. If I get those 3 things first then I want Language Translator and Wireless Charging. I have the Fremo EVO portable charger for my Echo Dot so I can make the Dot portable. I just wish Amazon would talk about what is coming next so I have an idea. Not that I would abandon them. I have 3 Echo Dots and I may possibly get the Tall Echo in the near future. But I want it to expand its features, so I can get more uses than I currently am getting. Right now I use it for Smart Home control and Music right now. I know the possibilities are endless and that is what excites me.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on January 04, 2017:

I have to agree and it really generalizes her capabilities as an assistant for basic tasks. Her math strengths are only limited to a quick answer although there are a few math related skills that attempt to expand on that.

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on January 04, 2017:

That has to be the next step in the evolution of the device. I know there's the Ooma skill that a lot of people have tried with their Ooma product but it's very hit and miss. I'd love to know what developers had in mind to make this happen.

mitch on January 03, 2017:

Why it is so much difficult to use Echo as a phone? It has a Mic and a very good speaker and there should only be an app which connects to a sip-platform like 42com. So Alexa should be able to place calls via the iOS/Android app to make calls. Any suggestions of developers how has ideas how to implement?

Cranie2000 on January 02, 2017:

I hate that Alexa can only do one math problem at a time. For example: 2+2 but not 2+2+6. (I obviously can solve this) but we calculate carbohydrates for our diabetic daughter so often we do calculations and then need to multiply the result by another number. Alexa CANT remember the previous result. Irritating!!

Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on December 03, 2016:

It has a few extra features versus the Echo but I can say the same vice-versa particularly when it comes to the smart home and third party skills that the Echo presently has. That may very well change 6 months to a year from now.

Italo on December 02, 2016:

You should check Google Home, most of those features are available on it

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