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The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon plans to shortly introduce "a smaller, portable version of its voice-activated tabletop Echo speaker, building off the device’s surprise success since it was released in November 2014."

The Echo,"must be plugged into an outlet, answers questions, creates shopping lists, plays music and can even turn connected lights on and off upon command." The beer can-sized smaller version, dubbed "Fox," can be charged "on a docking station and responds to voice command only by pushing a button, a necessary compromise to preserve battery life."

The Journal notes that "what started as somewhat of a funky experiment to test voice activation and collect data about consumer behavior has morphed into a potentially lucrative strategy to keep people coming back to the company’s retail site ... Amazon has bulked up the Echo’s features, adding traffic and weather reports, Yelp restaurant recommendations, streaming music services and home automation.

"The company also has begun pushing the Alexa software into others’ devices, in part due to a $100 million fund to encourage hardware makers to continue innovating. Last week, for example, Amazon announced a partnership with Ford Motor Co. to integrate Alexa software into its vehicles so that, say, garage doors could be opened by voice command.

"The initiatives could help make Amazon’s voice-activated software ubiquitous inside and outside the home, helping the company battle Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc. ’s Google and Microsoft Corp. which largely have relied on smartphones and tablets for their voice assistants."
KC's View:
We're enormous fans of the Echo in our house, but I'm not quite so sure about the smaller version. When I first heard about it, I thought it sounded like it would be a cool - and size-appropriate - addition to a very small home office that I use. But if you have to push a button to use it ... which is the antithesis of being voice-activated ... then it just seems less convenient. But, my mind can be changed if Amazon makes a persuasive enough case.

The bigger issue for retailers competing with Amazon has to be the online retailer's focus on creating a dominant ecosystem that will be consumers' first and best choice for pretty much any buying decision. They don't use the same technologies, but think about Amazon's Subscribe and Save program, and its Dash Buttons initiative, both of which make replenishment of regularly used products quick and easy.

This is a powerful strategic engine, and Amazon is building an impressive vehicle around it.