10 things I'd like to be able to do with Amazon's Echo

Amazon's voice-reactive Echo device is in limited availability, and David Gewirtz wants to tinker with it. Here is his list of things he would like to see the Echo do, if he ever gets his hands on one.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

As soon as Amazon announced the Echo -- the device that's part Bluetooth speaker, part Jetson's robot, and part NSA front end (kidding!) -- I wanted one. I've been doing a lot of experimentation with speech control, and I've been very curious about what could be done with the Echo.

Sadly, I only recently got an invitation to purchase the product, and Amazon won't promise anything sooner than May or June, so I can only speculate. On the other hand, my ZDNet buddy James Kendrick is one of the anointed few who has one, and his Echo has even had a feature upgrade. James said his Echo responds to the name Alexa.

Seriously, we have two Amazon Prime accounts and even buy toilet paper through Amazon. And yet, I still don't have an Echo. I didn't even get an invite until three months after the announcement. I'm not bitter (I'm really not), but I would like to get my hands on the thing.

In any case, James recently reported that the Echo now permits streaming of Pandora, iTunes, and Spotify. This was one of the many things I thought I'd like to do with my Echo, should I ever be granted the exalted privilege of buying one.

There are a lot of other things I'd like to do with the Echo. While James tells me none of these things are possible "out of the box", there may be some hacking opportunities. I'd like to turn the Echo into more of a Self-Actuated Residential Automated Habitat. As long as my Alexa doesn't develop a crush on Deputy Andy, I think we'll be good.

References to dearly departed SyFy channel series notwithstanding, here are some of the things I'd like my Echo to be able to do.

1. Control Hue lights: We now have 20 Hue bulbs scattered throughout Camp David, and it would be nice to be able to turn them on and off with voice command. I've generally figured out how to do that with OK Google, but not having to reach for my phone would be a win.

2. Change volume and mute TV: I don't need the Echo to replace my Harmony remotes -- there are far too many home entertainment devices programmed in. But it would be nice to tell the Echo to mute the TV or lower or raise the volume. Yes, I know it doesn't have an IR transmitter, but my phone does...

3. Interface with Tasker: Tasker is a powerful programming tool for Android and it would be great if the Echo could tell my Android phone something that needs doing. For example, if I could tell Echo to lower the volume, it could then send a message to Tasker and Tasker could send out the IR impulses. For that matter, Tasker could also control the lights if the Echo could just reach Tasker to command it.

4. Interface with IFTTT: If This, Then That: IFTTT.com is a great, simple cloud-based automation resource that works exactly like its name. If it gets a signal from "this", it then issues a command to "that" to do something. It would be great if the Echo could send messages to IFTTT. Then IFTTT could take it from there, issuing instructions to a wide variety of internet-connected devices.

5. Interface with AppleScript and Automator: There's a trend here. I've automated a lot of services on my Mac. It's one of the things the Mac does quite well. It would be nice to be able to use the Echo as a command interface that can talk to the Mac, and within the Mac, use AppleScript and Automator to accomplish tasks.

6. List and read Pocket articles: I actively use Pocket to gather articles for later reading. While the web version of Pocket doesn't read articles out loud, the mobile versions do (mostly). It would be great to be able to ask the Echo what recent articles I stored and tell it to read me one of them.

7. List and read Audible and Kindle books: Given that the Echo is from Amazon, this is a gimme. There's no reason the Echo shouldn't be able to pick up where you last left off reading in an Audible book (or any Kindle book for that matter), and keep reading it to you.

8. Announce incoming callers: Here's another case where using the Echo as a front end to the phone would make sense. When my phone rings, it would be nice to have the Echo state "Call from your boss" or "Call from your parents".

9. Make outbound calls: Along a similar vein, it would be great to tell the Echo, "Call my wife", and have it send a message to the phone to dial out.

10. Speak and respond to SMS and Hangouts messages: It would be great if, when I get an SMS or Google Hangouts message, the Echo could read them out loud. My car easily reads me my SMS messages (I wish it would also do that with Hangouts). But if my car can do it, why not the Echo?

I'm sure Amazon will add a lot of these features over time, and you can be sure that once I get my hands on an Echo (hint hint, Amazon!), I'll see what's involved in adding some of these features. Stay tuned.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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