Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Amazon Alexa, the Next Computing Platform

Anyone who has paid attention to my posts this year will have noticed two new topics.

1) Lyme Disease
I won't be the only one you’ll hear sounding this year's Lyme alarm. The medical establishment continues to debate the proper diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease. They all agree more cases are being reported but no organization has been keeping track of exact number.  I may occasionally rant how long my “chronic CNS Lyme” was missed over years of various hospitalizations.  After weeks of daily intravenous antibiotics my symptoms definitely improved but after six months and the loss of over 40 lbs. my doctors are now ready to document my current condition.

The majority of folks who learn of my condition want to share their favorite tick removal method and tell me how Lyme disease must make my joints sore and I must have been given antibiotics. The CNS prefix in my diagnosis refers to "Central Nervous System" which thankfully only infect a small number Lyme cases. For me it meant early retirement.

2) Amazon's Alexa
Alexa devices have become the leader in services provided by its "Voice User Interface" design.  I invested in my first Alexa device, the Amazon Tap, in June 2016. I discovered the music library available to Amazon Prime members was huge and the sound quality of the Tap is outstanding. It didn’t take long before Amazon had a big sale day for prime users(July 12, 2016) and I upgraded to an Amazon Echo with its seven microphone array.  I was convinced that Alexa was a winner and Amazon had put together a solid development team. The guarantee for a future was Amazon’s efforts to attract a large number of 3rd party developers and create partnerships with both software and hardware developers.
 In February 2017, I noticed I my "Tap" had a firmware update. It wasn't a security update it wasn’t just a bug fix, it was a brand new valuable feature.  Just like my Echo I could now set my Tap to be hands-free activated. I now keep my Tap in the kitchen and still use it to play one of the many Playlists from Prime Music. I depend on Alexa to let me set timers when cooking or to remind me to check my laundry. Both ideal tasks for a voice user interface. For someone disabled because of a nervous system disorder like mine, Alexa would be a must-have accessibility device yet there is something for everyone.  
Last month I was surprised by a new firmware update when I noticed the color of the Echo's circle turned Green. So, naturally I asked Alexa what the green light was for and she told me I had a message. I learned that I could now use my Echo to call or send a voice messages to anyone with a supported Alexa device including the Alexa app on the Apple iPhone or Android phones.  Not only does it provide free voice messaging, I don't have to lift a finger to create a conversation. Just like a timer, this is a feature that makes living with Lyme disease just a little bit easier. Many times, if I don't have a chance to send a message immediately, I'll lose track of what I had planned to share. 
 I’ve seen a number of computing platforms come and go. Usually, the key to success is having what I call a “killer app.” The Alexa platform and the voice interface model developed by Amazon has already provided many killer apps* with plenty of imagination left for more. I’ve been asked to compare Alexa to the Google Home Assistant and the new Apple HomePod without starting a brand war. I consider other voice assistants as apps, where are Alexa is a platform. 
 If I sound over excited, check out some of the other new features at
Alexa Calling & Messaging  
or see how Alexa has been adopted by "The Seeing Eye" Guide Dog school in Morristown, NJ.

 *Instead of having “apps”, programs that run on an Alexa device are called “skills.”

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