On Wednesday, an update to the Amazon Echo, a smart voice-activated speaker, quietly cinched the device’s role as a player in the connected home.
Owners of the Echo—which is still only available for purchase by invitation—received an email updating them of a new feature: In addition to streaming music from the cloud and giving time and weather updates, Alexa, the Echo’s voice-driven personality, can now also command smart home appliances from Belkin WEMO and Philips Hue.
In other words, as long as the Echo is connected to the same wireless network as your WEMO Switch and Philips Hue light bulbs, you can simply tell Alexa to “discover my appliances.” From there, you can control anything from smart light switches to the “dumb” coffeemaker plugged into your smart outlet, all by just talking out loud.
The move speaks volumes about Amazon’s smart home ambitions, and the way it’s carrying that out—by sneaking a hub into people’s houses.
Alexa, Control My Home
Smart homes, once the pursuit of small startups, have become the domain of major tech companies. The slew of contenders now vying for this space includes Google’s Nest Thermostat, Lowe’s Iris, Samsung’s SmartThings and Apple’s (still somewhat vaporous) HomeKit initiative.
We suspected Amazon was interested in stepping into the smart home as well, and now it appears that the company sees its Echo as an effective command center for it.
See also: One Connected Home Hub To Rule Them All
The device may even flex more muscle than typical smart home hubs, which seem to be going out of style. Plenty can network smart one-task appliances together and deliver marching orders to everything from the thermostat to locks and lights. But not all of them can act as a smart speaker and an intelligent home companion.
Perhaps someday, it could even become a personal concierge, telling you when you’re out of dishwashing soap and ordering more at your verbal instruction. If Amazon ties Echo to its Dash Replenishment Service, that’s precisely what its next evolution could look like.
A Hub Snub
It’s hard to overlook the fact that whoever manages the hub essentially controls the smart home. So if standard hubs aren’t trendy anymore, then smuggling them into other products seem to be the emerging modus operandi.
Google seems to champion the hub-less movement, having acquired smart thermostat maker Nest, whose system uses no centralized command center. Nest bought Dropcam, adding its smart camera to its family, but stripped Revolv of its core hardware when it acquired the hub-maker.
Meanwhile Apple’s HomeKit system looked like it would turn iPhones into command centers, but it may wind up giving its new Apple TV some hub-like powers as well.
Echo appears to be Amazon’s variation on the theme. which could be summed up as a sort of sneak attack. Such products put smart home systems into customers’ houses, when all they really wanted was an efficient thermostat, a handy TV box or a talking speaker.
In other words, if you’re not sold on smart homes yet, then too bad—you may already have one.
Photo courtesy of Amazon