Okay, let's get it out of the way: Amazon's Echo Look is pretty creepy.
Not just the camera and recording functionalities, but the whole idea of an intimate space being used to market and target under the guise of fashion improvement is pretty nerving. At my daily brand hotsheet meeting, I did an informal review of the device with all-but-me female team at work about the device and was met with disturbed glances.
"That's not really for me."
"I love my mirror and switching my clothes in front of it. I don't really need this."
"I think it's creepy. It's always going to be watching me"
"It's really weird."
"It reminds me of that scene from Clueless!" (I had to look that one up on YouTube).
Nods of approval were in full force as my female team agreed, the Echo Look just felt so out of place. Why do we need this?
However, I was brimming at the excitement of the possibilities.
Not long ago, I bought into the idea of Microsoft Kinect, a camera with 3D sensing functionality that would allow me to peer in and interact with my screen with my entire body.
Of course, the Kinect failed in the market, mainly for the cumbersome nature of it. You needed to have a large, spacious area. It's lackluster accuracy was dependent on several rounds of user calibration. It's microphone didn't pick up voices too well (try screaming Cortana at my Xbox 5 times in a row). It needs a game controller to augment functionality. And it's price, at $150, not including the Xbox powering the device, defeated it from the start.
Yet, here is the Amazon Echo Look, masquerading as a baby Kinect. Except this time, the processing isn't happening on the device. It's on the cloud. Machine learning is powering the camera to blur out backgrounds a la Portrait mode on iOS. AI is making a customer's clothing decision easier and quicker. It's a well designed, portrait device, designed to blend into your room with a white, Apple-like coating on the device.
What else will the Amazon camera enable?
Amazon's Alexa team is clearly using this device as a way to refine its recognition capabilities. But once it breaks out the mold, developers will get a powerful API to play with. What will they build? I have a few postulations:
- Pointing a book my friend brought over to my home, "Alexa, can you add this book to my wishlist?"
- While in another room, a mother asks her Echo Dot, "Alexa, how is the baby doing?" to check on any motion activity on her child.
- A family hears the doorbell at dinner time and asks, "Alexa, who's at the front door?" Using AI, Amazon can identify the person at the door and turn them away.
- Amazon has been analyzing my posture every day. I ask it for my health recommendation: "Alexa, how's my body posture?" Alexa responds with a stretching regimen for tomorrow's exercise session to help rectify the posture. It also sends a note to my doctor about my posture issues.
- I'm in the kitchen, taking a second look at this dish of leftovers from a few days ago. "Alexa, is this food still safe to eat?"
- I need to quickly scan a document and send it to a friend but I don't want to whip out the printer. "Alexa, send this document to Mohammad"
- At work, I can conference in our remote team. "Alexa, setup a live feed from the conference room in San Fran." A window would pop-up on our screen with the video chat ready go.
Amazon took advantage of our cloud connected world (hell, they pioneered AWS) and reduced the costs of camera-enabled computing. At $199, you have an always-on, ready to go, accurate assistant who can use its "eye" to simplify and capture the story of your life.
Why would you get a Kinect? Why would you get a Nest Dropcam when this has more functionality at a similar cost? And if you think Snapchat, Facebook and other tech players aren't watching (no pun intended), you haven't been paying attention.
I love my Echo Dot but I can already see the horizon ahead. Kudos to you Amazon. Your move Apple, Facebook, Snapchat, Microsoft, and Google.
Side note: While the Amazon logo is a ghastly design oversight on the front of the Echo Look, most people won't care. They'll be too busy looking at their own selfies on their phone. Also, how awesome is it that Amazon took advantage of the screen we always carry with us as it's viewport. No need for an expensive LCD when you already have one in your pocket.