Amazon Echo Reveals the Future of Connected Audiobooks
I almost bought an Amazon Echo last November. It was on sale for $129 and I figured it was too good a deal to pass up. Amazon promised two-day Prime delivery but they got overwhelmed by all the orders and, like many others, they botched mine and said I might receive it by end of year. At that point I decided it wasn’t meant to be so I cancelled and I’m glad I did.
I already have a couple of other terrific Bluetooth speakers and while the Alexa voice control feature is nice, I’m not convinced it’s worth $100+. It reminds me of dedicated GPS devices and fitness bracelets, both of which have been replaced by sensors in my phone.
Echo is more of a nice-to-have, not need-to-have, item for me, especially with its ability to turn news and other types of written content into streamable audio content. But I’m much more interested in a mobile solution, not one that sits on a countertop.
Like GPS and fitness devices, Echo’s main functionality will also eventually find its way into the phone itself. The reason I’m prefer a mobile solution is that I spend a lot of time in my car where I use the Bluetooth feature of my radio and phone to listen to podcasts, music, etc.
The Echo platform becomes very attractive to me when it’s nothing more than an app on my phone that plays through my car radio. The app handles all the speech command conversion via the cellular connection, the same way the streaming content arrives.
This app doesn’t have to be free, by the way. Charge me $5/month or something close to that and I’ll gladly pay for the option to “play news” and other commands in my car.
Where this really gets fascinating is with longer-form content and the ability to use voice commands to annotate and highlight audiobooks, for example. Whether it’s in my car or at home, it would be nice to finally have the ability to do more than just listen to an audiobook. For example, when I hear a noteworthy passage, I’d like to be able to say “pause,” “highlight last two sentences,” “add private note to highlight saying ‘this is something I should pass along to the marketing team,’” etc.
Take it a step further and integrate my email app so that rather than just making that verbal note to pass along to marketing, let me say, “create email to Joe Smith at company.com, subject ‘key discovery’, body is highlight, send.”
Let’s say you’re listening to that book and you hear a phrase, person, or location you’re not familiar with. The app should have the ability for me to say, “pause,” “tell me about phrase/person/location,” and the app responds with the appropriate audio stream (e.g., top Google search result, Wikipedia entry, etc.)
All my audio highlights and annotations must be searchable, by voice as well as text. In fact, let’s add the capability to integrate all these highlights and notes into Evernote so I can keep everything in one place.
Amazon might be happy selling $100+ voice-controlled Bluetooth speakers today but the real opportunity is with a fully mobile, app-driven solution that integrates with a broader number of content sources and streams. We’re not there yet but by combining voice control and streaming audio the Amazon Echo platform is starting to show us what’s possible down the road.
Joe Wikert is Publishing President at Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com). Before joining OSV Joe was Director of Strategy and Business Development at Olive Software. Prior to Olive Software he was General Manager, Publisher, & Chair of the Tools of Change (TOC) conference at O’Reilly Media, Inc., where he managed each of the editorial groups at O’Reilly as well as the Microsoft Press team and the retail sales organization. Before joining O’Reilly Joe was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division.