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I woke up at 7 am to the sound of my alarm blaring. There's nothing unusual about that, except… hang on… "Alexa, stop!" Yep, the alarm was coming from the bedroom Alexa.
That bedroom Alexa is the one we call Alexa Prime since it was the first one we got. It's the old Pringles can-style Amazon OG Echo, ordered from Amazon as soon as the company started accepting orders. Alexa Prime has been with us since Jan. 13, 2015, and she has been waking me every one of the 2,828 days since.
At this point, we have an Alexa in every room. And yes, that includes bathrooms. We found the intercom, timer, and smart home control functions so valuable that it makes sense for them to be everywhere we are.
But it's Alexa Prime I want to focus on for a minute. She's been with us for almost eight years. We've never had to update her (although I do know that updates have been automatically installed quietly and without requiring my attention). She still runs all our routines and smart home activities, turning on and off lights, controlling the temperature, and so on.
I've since had to purchase replacements for all of those devices. With iOS 16, Apple has discontinued support of the iPhone 6S Plus. When MacOS Ventura comes out this month, my i5 MacBook Pro from 2015 will also lose support (as will all MacBook Pros purchased before 2017, MacBook Airs and Mac Minis purchased before 2018, and Mac Pros purchased before 2019).
But Alexas just work. That's the first underappreciated way Alexa devices are consumer-friendly. Day in, day out. In my case, nearly 3,000 days. They just work. I've never had to replace a single Echo device because it was obsoleted by the company. Although not all features are available for older devices (you need a more recent device such as a third-generation Echo Dot or newer to make it bilingual in Spanish, for example), in my personal experience so far, I haven't noticed any loss of support or functionality. Each incarnation of the helpful AI just sits there, waiting for us to ask or command something.
Now, sure. As Amazon introduces new Echo models, they do more and sound better. But I'm not terribly concerned with media-center-quality sound when I'm blasted out of sleep in the morning. I just want to be able to get to work on time. And Alexa does that.
There's another consumer-friendly feature of Alexa that we rarely discuss: There's no monthly fee. To be fair, this is also true of Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, but it's also very rare for smart devices to run without a monthly fee (especially security cameras).
I should note that Amazon does have some services it offers to Alexa users for an extra fee. There's a fee for the Alexa Kids+ service, which offers some kid-related content.
There's also a fee for Alexa Guard Plus, which provides some emergency monitoring and protection. And there's a per-incident fee for Echo Auto, which you incur if you call for help when stuck on the side of the road. But there's no fee for the basic Alexa service, and in seven years, we've never needed to upgrade to any of the incremental services that have fees.
I'm not an apologist for Amazon. I'm as concerned as the next guy about Amazon's near lock on Internet commerce, and I do worry about how far an AI like Alexa can go before we get Skynet. But on this second day of Amazon's second Prime Day(s) of the year, I wanted to share a positive thought.
Right now, Alexa's generally just helpful, and she has been since she took up residence on my bedroom bookshelf. Sure, it could get a lot worse. But for now, in our crazy, fractious, messed-up world, it's nice to be able to point out something, anything, that doesn't completely suck, even if for only a moment.
"Alexa, thank you."
"You're so welcome. Your kindness really gives me a charge."
Now, what exactly does she mean by that? Is that a pun? Is she saying she likes it when I charge things via Amazon? Is she mocking me for yelling "No" this morning when she wanted to tell me about the weather? Will she someday murder me in my bed?
Yep, that moment is over. But still... "Alexa, set alarm for 7 am."