Amazon's new Echo camera is weird and a little creepy - but it hints at Amazon's masterplan to rule tech
In a lot of ways, it's at least a little creepy. You're basically paying Amazon for a microphone and camera to put in your bedroom. And Amazon confirms that the photos are stored on its computers indefinitely, until you manually delete them.
And of course, with Amazon's fashion algorithms still largely unknown, I'm not sure how much you'll trust Alexa, the name of the Echo's built-in virtual assistant, to dress you in the morning.Still, it's clear that Amazon knows its niche for this new product: In the era of the professional Instagram influencer, the Echo Look offers buyers a personal fashion photographer and, perhaps, the opportunity to up their fashion game.
Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. Maybe it'll be a surprise hit like the original Amazon Echo, maybe it will end up more like the Amazon Fire Phone, a notorious flop. In the end, it doesn't really matter: It's a sign of how Amazon is willing to take any risk and try anything to conquer the next wave of computing, as the smartphone starts its slow, decade-long march to the grave.
The camera is the composer
The new hotness (or at least, a new hotness) in Silicon Valley is the idea that, as Mark Zuckerberg puts it, "the camera is the composer."
Increasingly, we're using our cameras and our voices to work with our devices, using them to do the same stuff that you do now with a keyboard, mouse, and/or touch on a PC or phone. If you've ever taken a picture of a product label at the grocery store or of your parking spot to help you remember it later, you're already on the journey to the next big phase of computing
Now, with the rise of artificial intelligence, cameras are getting way smarter. The Echo Look is a hyper-specialized version of so-called "computer vision" technology - where Snapchat uses it for its famed selfie filters, and FaceApp uses it to flip your gender, Echo Look enlists computer vision tech to be a fashion coach.
But it's important to also remember that when the Amazon Echo first burst onto the scene, it was sold as a smart speaker, with some basic voice commands - and only later grew into a smart-home-controlling, voice-shopping powerhouse. Echo Look, similarly, is a focused device with a very specific sales pitch, belying grander ambitions.
Because once you hook a camera up to the internet, there's all sorts of things you could do. The same vision systems that drive its fashion advice could be used to track your pet through your home, or to tell you where in the house you left your keys, or even act as a security system like Alphabet's Nest Cam.
Just like the Echo opened up the world of voice assistants, the Echo Look could open up a market for in-home cameras all its own. Again, that's so long as you can get past the creepy factor. But the technology is here.
We don't know if Amazon is working on any of this, to be totally clear. What is clear is that Amazon sees some kind of future in an Alexa gadget with a camera, and that it's willing to try weird stuff until it works.
"The size of your mistakes needs to grow along with" the company, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in 2016, following the flop of the Fire Phone. "If it doesn't, you're not going to be inventing at scale that can actually move the needle."