Amazon wants you to know it likes to dabble in hardware. So, in an unexpected announcement, it has unveiled Echo.
Echo is a Internet-connected speaker that looks like the MacPro, because it's cylindrical in shape. Apart from its unique design, Echo notably has a voice assistant called Alexa and responds to natural-language voice commands. To wake Alexa, just say Alexa followed by whatever you want to ask or command. You can say, for instance, "Alexa, play The Doors."
You can change the name Alexa to Amazon, but you must say one of the two names in order to make Echo listen. Amazon said it processes and acts upon all voice commands in the cloud, and information comes from set sources. Music comes from Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, weather comes from AccuWeather, facts come from Wikipedia, etc.
Echo is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled, stands 9.25-inches tall, and weighs about 900g. It boasts seven microphones as well as a remote with a built-in microphone and music controls. It also plugs into the wall. That's right. It doesn't have a battery. Echo is therefore a stationary Bluetooth speaker, and it will cost $199 when it becomes available in the next few weeks.
If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber however, you can get Echo for $99. That said, you can't just add the product to your cart and checkout now. You have to request an invitation and then wait a few weeks for a response. It's a sales approach becoming more and more common in the tech world, though it's a new strategy for Amazon.
One last thing: Echo has a companion app that lets you set alarms, bring up music, make shopping lists, and more. At launch, the app is available for web, Fire OS, and Android. An iOS app is coming soon, according to Amazon, and Alexa does not work through the app.