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It is important not to get carried away about the Echo, despite its growing buzz.Sales to date are estimated to be around 7m – less, for example, than the Apple Watch, whose sales have been below expectations – although the Echo is believed to have picked up momentum in recent months and has only been available in the US to date, with the UK and Germany following later this month.or a company founded on prescience – Bezos’s belief in online retail led him to quit his Wall Street hedge fund before many had heard of the web – it was a spectacular misjudgement, and led to a 0m (£130m) writedown just a year after the phone was launched.
t came and went so quickly that one could easily forget it ever existed, but it was only two years ago that Amazon released its own smartphone.
Developed in the web retailer’s secretive “Lab 126”, a Silicon Valley subsidiary 800 miles south of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, the “Fire Phone” was applauded for its ideas, which included a 3D screen effect made possible by an elaborate four-camera system. Tied to Amazon’s own operating system – a flawed stepbrother of Google’s dominant Android software – and with a premium price tag that disappointed those familiar with the company’s reputation for aggressively-thin margins, it failed to mount anything approaching a challenge to Apple or Google in the smartphone wars.
While taking out a smartphone in public and speaking to it – as one must with Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant – is awkward, and often slower than simply using a touchscreen, talking to a device in the comfort of one’s own home is decidedly less uncomfortable. The company’s prowess in cloud computing – which has spawned the colossal Amazon Web Services unit – means that the Echo has access to the near-infinite computing resources of the company’s servers: it can hear a question, send it to be processed, receive an answer and relay it in milliseconds.
And Amazon’s underrated artificial intelligence chops, honed using years of shopping data and developed at an R&D base in Cambridge, have allowed it to sneak under the radar.
Apple is also rumoured to be exploring such a device.