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. Language Processor
Alexa is only available in English, 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 couple 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: Amazon Echo and Echo Dot arrived in the UK and Germany, which could be the start of more language/accent integration as Alexa moves beyond the US.
9. Smartphone Extension
Calling and Texting
How cool would it be if you could ask Alexa to make calls or send complete text messages that use your own cell number?
I know there are a few "skills" options currently available that attempt to do this, but they use their own number, can't send more than a few phrases, and fail to work half the time. They're also skills that require invocation phrases, complicating things further.
- I want my Amazon Echo to be an extension of my smartphone.
I want it to send and receive full-length messages and calls, and I want the device to be a receiver that uses my own number.
If all that can be done via voice, then the usefulness of the Echo would skyrocket.
Update: Voice calling and messaging is now available if you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. It'll also be available for the upcoming Echo Show and on the Alexa app. When calling or receiving a call the Echo's light ring will turn green, and the same will apply to unread text messages.
However keep in mind that all your Echo devices will go off when receiving a call and Echo users need to update and enable this feature to use it.
Currently you can't make hands-free calls to landlines or mobile phones like the Google Home, but I expect Amazon to make this available in the coming months.
There are also major privacy concerns because you can't specifically block individual contacts yet. Amazon plans to address those problems in the coming weeks.
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.
7. Battery Case
Amazon Echo + Tap
The Amazon Tap was a good idea, but it would've made sense to include a charging case for the Echo too.
I realize the Echo wasn't initially designed for portability, but this would be a nice feature to have in the future. If you can take the Amazon Echo anywhere and not have to tap a button to use her, then it would be a win.
The Amazon Tap is not always on, which is a huge drawback. The company created Alexa to always listen for its name, so why not support that idea?
In my opinion, they should either improve the Tap by making it always be on, or include a charging case for the Echo.
Update: Alexa on the Amazon Tap can now be activated using only your voice, which makes it a great, cheaper substitute for the Echo. Since the Tap is battery powered, portability is no longer an issue though battery life remains a concern.
You also need a Wi-Fi connection for Alexa to work.
6. Multi-Room Support
Multi-Room Support Required
You can't sync multiple Echo devices together right now to play music, which is a problem for audiophiles.
Personally I'm okay without this feature, but users with large homes who love music would want this. Additionally the Google Home has multi-room support via its Chromecast devices, and the Amazon Echo needs to catch up.
Having this feature would help the company as it would make more sense to purchase multiple Echo devices. I would also like if the Echo was more like the Echo Dot with its ability to connect to any speaker.
Having more options, even if you don't use them right now, makes a product more interesting.
5. Powerful AI
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 remember.
- Alexa needs to get smarter, it's that simple.
I've had the Echo for over a year now, and I'm surprised that she isn't getting more intelligent.
Her lack of intelligence will not cut it in the long term.
4. Visual Projector
4. Project Images
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 will include a large tablet-like touchscreen that will expand the visual medium allowing you to view detailed weather reports, recipes, song lyrics, and play YouTube/Amazon videos.
3. Customized Design
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.
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: Echo and Echo Dot now comes in black and white colors.
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: Apple rumors suggest they may be launching a smart speaker with a camera for facial recognition, which if successful, would be an integral feature in future Echo products.
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.
1. Alexa Chatbot
No More Apps
Chatbots are apparently a big deal because they promise to eliminate apps and make things a lot faster.
I'm not a huge fan of them but I can see how they can be used for the Amazon Echo.
Echo's Alexa app has thousands of skills, and it's growing every day, but having so many skills reveals a major flaw:
- You can't remember which skill to use and what phrase will open said skill.
We need Alexa to be able to access any skill at will without having to use specific commands. I want to tell her to order a pizza without first having to say "Open Dominos" and then follow through.
Soon there will be millions of skills available, and no one will be able to know what they are unless they look in the Alexa app. This complication defeats the purpose of having a voice-activated speaker.
If there's one place where a chatbot will be useful, it's the Amazon Echo.