Top 10 Things Amazon Echo Can't Do Yet
Amazon Echo's Missing Pieces
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.
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.
What Feature Does Amazon Echo Require?
Questions & Answers
Do I need to buy two Alexa speakers so it can hear me from downstairs?
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.
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.
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.
Which of these can Alexa not do?
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.