Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Voice User Interface with Alexa - First Impression

It is so weird when a product works better in real life than from marketing hype. The last time I think this happened was with iPod and iPhone, it was simply something you have to get your hands on in order to appreciate the device. For me, my concern with iPod was the ease of user interface; with iPhone, how a small screen can conduct what a big screen used to do. Obviously both of the products were wildly successful and solved those two questions way ahead of me.

The biggest question on Alexa for me was this:

"Who needs a voice interface when we have virtual reality, Kinect, and a super computer that fits in your palm?" 

I thought it was going to another 10-inch Kindle that sounds ok but quickly goes away. But I think I was wrong about it. Here is the story behind it.

I am a fan of StraTechery, both the blog and Podcast. They were consistently bullish on Amazon, in particular Echo as a device and Alexa as a platform. So I thought, what the heck, I will give it a try. I was surprised at how easy it was to get started, how much Amazon has thrown its resources behind it. Even without a device, you can use EchoSim to simulate an voice controlled device and tied it to the back end.

As I read more about the use case, I think I am gradually beginning to think of it as a valid additional option. Here are what I think they do that is different:

1. You don't always have a phone with you at home, and Echo is precisely a home-based device.
2. It is hands-free, so you can operate it when you are busy with your hands and just want a quick answer. If you pay attention, you will be surprised how many times at home you just want a quick answer without pulling out your phone.
3. It is less tech than a phone. I stare at a computer screen most of the day and a phone screen the rest of the time. I treasure the time I can stay away from it while still getting the information I needed.

But even as I am turning from a non-believer into a curious party, the whole process of building my first app was still prove to be pretty difficult. In particular, I don't understand Amazon Lambda and that was suppose to be the 'easy' option to tie in the voice skill to AWS.

Stay tune for my next blog post about how I eventually was able to build my first "Hello World" app on Alexa.

ps. What does it have to do with Python and Network Engineering? Probably very little besides you can write network and Python-related apps down the line. But hay, all things starts with a little curiosity! :)

Happy Coding!







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