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Amazon Put Alexa in Millions of Homes: Is Yours Next?

Some day, Amazon could be embedded in appliances, listening all over your house.

Why would you want that? Because your own voice is turning into the best input device since the Enter key. And Amazon has found the first genuinely killer use for it: playing music.

This idea is slightly less bonkers than it sounded in late 2014 when Amazon debuted its Echo speaker and Alexa talking tech. It—or should I say she?—is an artificial intelligence, like the “bot” Facebook FB -0.09 % introduced for its Messenger this week. When you call Alexa’s name around an Echo, she wakes up and responds in a perky voice.

“Alexa, what’s the weather today,” you can ask from up to 20 feet away. “Right now in San Francisco, it’s 54 degrees,” she responds. With no taps or futzing with apps required, Alexa points to a future where not all tech is crammed onto a smartphone screen.

Amazon's Echo Dot’s circular top lights up to show it is listening. It can stand...

It’s impressive technology, though Alexa herself has a long journey ahead. The $180 tube-shaped Echo was a dud when I reviewed it in early 2015. Because I mostly just use Amazon for shopping, Alexa didn’t know enough about me—my contacts, my messages, my travels—to even be a bumbling assistant like Apple’s Siri. And without Google’s smarts, Alexa was downright terrible at Jeopardy. In my house, we primarily used the Echo to set kitchen timers, making Alexa a very expensive spaghetti assistant.

Since then, though, Alexa’s been in school—and is proving how gadgets can become more useful when you just talk to them. Alexa’s always been able stream music, but was limited in her sources. In February, she gained the ability to play Spotify, the all-you-can-eat streaming music buffet. Spotify turned Alexa into an incredible DJ: Now I just name any artist, song or playlist aloud, and the dance party begins. The audio industry is rightly feeling threatened by Alexa: Sonos recently announced a reorganization to prepare for its future making voice-operated speakers.

Now Amazon is waging a full-on talking assault on home entertainment. Last year, it added Alexa’s talents to its Fire TV streaming video box, which includes a microphone in its remote. This month’s new...


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