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Amazon unveils cloud-connected, digital personal assistant Echo

Amazon unveils Echo, a new cloud-connected home appliance that -- perhaps appropriately -- resembles a chamber.

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Trailing a smartphone that panned out to be a dud , Amazon introduced its next stab at consumer hardware on Thursday.

Meet Echo, a new cloud-connected device for the home that -- perhaps appropriately -- resembles a chamber.

The e-commerce giant might frame Echo as an easy-to-use product, but the concept (and incorporated technology) is not simple by any means.

Echo responds to and operates around a user's vocal commands, much like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana.

Answering to the name "Alexa," Echo is designed to respond to questions about news, weather, music and other information, churning out data while simultaneously learning and sending more data back to the Amazon cloud.

Thus, it marks another way for Amazon to learn more about its consumers, notably for more use cases within the home rather than just about shopping and consumption habits via its digital storefront and mobile products.

Echo is already programmed to connect to a number of mainstream entertainment products, promising hands-free operation for services such as Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. Users can also opt to manage features, such as alarms and shopping lists, on native companion apps developed for Fire OS and Android as well as via desktop and iOS mobile browsers.

Although it's not quite a moonshot in the same vein as the high-flying Prime Air drones unveiled just before Thanksgiving last year , Echo is another shot in the dark and into the unknown for Amazon. One could peg Echo as the next step for digital personal assistants, bringing us all the more closer to an all-surrounding like computer experience out of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Then again, it could also be lambasted as an overpriced kitchen counter appliance. Then there is the whole cloud and AI element, which could scare off consumers already uneasy about how easily their data is picked up and accumulated these days.

But Amazon is moving much more slowly with Echo than it did with the Fire Phone or even any of its previous entertainment products ( i.e. Fire TV ) and Kindle family .

Priced at $99 for Prime members (which already requires a $99 annual membership fee) and $199 for non-Prime members, access to Echo is currently only available on an invitation only basis.

Interested buyers can apply for an invitation now, and if selected, they will receive emails in the coming weeks about completing orders.

Image via Amazon