Smartphone Required; Amazon Echo’s Unique Setup Process
In a previous post, I wrote about my new Echo from Amazon. The Amazon Echo is a Wifi connected speaker which you place in your home. You can then talk to it (it’s named Alexa), and it will follow commands like playing music, providing weather reports, and–paired with a SmartThings or similar hub–control your lights and appliances.
Amazon is clearly pushing the Echo as a fancy consumer product. It comes with nice Apple-esque packaging, a snazzy black monolith design, and a reasonably natural computer voice.
One of the things I found most interesting about the Echo, though, is the setup process. In this area, Amazon is going full-bore into the future. The Echo has no Ethernet port, USB jack, or weird proprietary connector. There’s no way to plug it into a computer, or even connect it directly to a wired internet connection. Instead, the setup is done entirely from within the Alexa app, which is available for iPhone and Android. Using the app, you can get the Echo up and running, and connect it to your home Wifi connection.
Of course, this requires that you have two things–a smartphone and a home Wifi connection. Anyone who is ready to drop $179 on a speaker you talk to probably has these two things. But in making them mandatory, Amazon is definitely saying that this is a gadget for the future. It’s like those webpages which refuse to show the page and instead display a guilt-trippy warning if you visit them on an old Internet Explorer browser. They’re not willing to compromise their design to accommodate your outdated ways.
So how smooth is the Echo’s setup process? Overall, pretty smooth. You plug in the Echo, and download the Alexa app. It then prompts you to wait for the Echo’s light ring before proceeding. There are even nice, friendly hand-drawn graphics.
First, your phone connects to the Echo.
Next, it asks for your Wifi credentials. It then runs through a setup process, which the app accurately warns may take a few minutes. If this fails, it may ask you to start over.
Once the setup is complete, we get to the one sour note in the setup process–a mandatory instructional video. The video is a couple minutes long, and you have to watch the whole thing before you can start using the app. I understand that Amazon feels they have to work extra hard to introduce a whole new human/machine interaction concept to their users, but making the video un-skippable? Really? It’s patronizing to the user who wants to dive right in and try things out, and just plan annoying if you have to set up multiple Echos or you get a new phone and have to watch the whole thing again.
Watch the setup video–it’s mandatory!
Once you finish the process, though, your Echo is all set up and ready to use. Aside from some minor annoyances, it’s a pretty seamless way to get going. There’s no manual to junk up your box, and no need to mess around with plugging in/unplugging cables, accessing setup pages in your browser, etc. like with some home automation gadgets. Stay tuned for more about the Echo here and on our Youtube channel.