New old tech
The future! Eternal, shiny and chrome. We all know what it will look like, right? A little bit of immersive VR, a splash of zero UI, maybe a tiny bit of artificially intelligent robot conquest.
And… this thing, apparently.
That there is a recently leaked new look for Amazon’s Echo, and it may just be the future home of Alexa, the House Bezos entry in the apparently mandatory Charming If Subtly Creepy Female Sounding Virtual Assistant Contest, alongside Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s… Google Assistant.
Google is not so much with the naming of things other than Google. Except Alphabet, I suppose.
As linked, ink has already been spilled over the seriously retro form factor of the screen-enabled Echo, but… seriously, that is a retro form factor. I mean, integral speaker? I’m pretty sure I saw Ally McBeal answer a phone call on one of those, no doubt in a charmingly flustered fashion.
I’m going to swim against the already-forming current, however: I like it.
Obviously I’m 90s enough to make Ally McBeal references and use all the letters in the word “obviously,” but my fondness for the device goes beyond the fact that modern world frightens and angers me.
Remember setting up Bluetooth for the first time? Or a wireless peripheral? Because I’ll bet a shiny quarter a fair number of y’all had to use a wired device in the process.
I know I did.
That’s the unavoidable curse of new interfaces and connection protocols: if they don’t work, by definition you can’t ask them what their problem is, because you need it to work before you can ask.
Looming over the otherwise utterly welcome shift to voice-controlled zero UI is the prospect of the most severe case of Can’t Talk To The Thing ever. This time, if the cheerful Dalek of your choice turns blue and falls over – and it is a universal truth that everything, everything eventually turns blue and falls over, it’s the Tao of Tech – you literally won’t be able to talk to it.
It’ll be straight up “I can’t do that, Dave,” and nobody wants HAL in their house, even if he’s just queueing up Netflix reruns.
What about redundancy?
By all appearances, this is a touchscreen interface stuffed in a very large, very grey box. Touching Alexa might be a plus (that sounded less creepy in my head) but how is that functionality not duplicated by your phone?
My thing with that is… ever lose your phone?
The whole point of zero UI is that it runs everything. Techie types have been saying for decades that personal tech is eventually going to come down to two things, the thing you have in your house and the thing you carry around. Make the one depend on the other and the next time you leave your phone on the bus, when you get home, your house won’t work. Undesirable.
But look at this guy
It really, obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s a beast. You’d need worshippers with ropes and a bunch of log rollers. It’s gonna hang in your house, shining the time, hanging on to your IMs and absolutely, positively guaranteeing you can talk to all the tech that runs your life.
It might just be, in this one case, the way forward is taking a step back.