Amazon announces Echo, a dedicated, Siri-like speaker system for quick information

Amazon today announced a new hardware product called Echo. It’s essentially a speaker unit dedicated to being a voice-control system. It kind of sounds like Siri but in a speaker for a single room instead of in your iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch.

You can set alarms, control music, ask about the weather, search the web, ask questions, and access local news. It streams content via Bluetooth and WiFi, and connects to the Fire Phone (if you have one, lol), iOS via the browser, Android, and desktop computers via the web. Instead of “Hey Siri,” you say “Alexa” to start speaking the device. You’ll need a Fire OS/Android device to take full advantage, but music should work fine via iOS.

The whole concept is very futuristic, and it’s unclear how beneficial this will be to people with voice-controlled phones. But, hey, this comes from the developers of a faux-3D phone and delivery drones, so this is not completely out of left field. The Echo is $99 for Amazon Prime users, $199 for everyone else, and (for some reason) you need an invitation to receive the honor to buy one of these untested things.

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Amazon’s $199 Fire is a 7-inch Fire tablet with no cameras, mic or 3G access and Nov. 15th release date

Just as Amazon’s media event begins in New York, serving as a launchpad for their inaugural tablet, Bloomberg spoils the announcement by publishing key pieces of information about the device. It will be called the Kindle Fire, as rumored, and will cost just $199, which is a pretty big deal.

The tablet is powered by a dual-core processor, has a seven-inch color display which responds to touch (just two fingers at once, though) and a “fresh and easy user interface” running on a forked Android version. You can read e-books on it, listen to music, watch movies and play games available for download through the Amazon Appstore for Android. Meanwhile, our own Seth Weintraub is on the scene in New York at Amazon’s press conference and here’s what he was able to glean from Amazon’s announcement…

A biggie: The device will come with a 60-day free trial of Amazon Prime (a $79 a year value) membership and pre-registered with your Amazon account, so you can literally use it right out of the box. Bad news: It has no cameras – not even a microphone. Heck, it even lacks 3G access so looks like the Fire will be a Wi-Fi affair only. The Kindle Fire is available at Amazon’s newly published Fire page and over at amazon.com/kindlefire. November 15 can’t come soon enough.

As for competition, check out this side-by-side specs comparison of Amazon’s Fire, Apple’s iPad 2 and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color, courtesy of The Verge.

That, plus this bit from the Bloomberg article:

Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is betting he can leverage Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce to pose a real challenge to Apple’s iPad, after tablets from rivals such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Research In Motion Ltd. have fallen short. Sales of Amazon’s electronic books, movies and music on the device may help make up for the narrower profit margins that are likely to result from the low price, said Brian Blair, an analyst at Wedge Partners Corp. in New York.

The analyst observes what all of us have known for a long time, that the Seattle-based online retailer has the most compelling ecosystem to take on Apple’s iTunes juggernaut. His quote plus three more Fire shots after the break.

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