Ecobee unveiled its latest connected thermostat at the Collision conference today. Far and away the most interesting bit is its inclusion of a microphone that utilizes Amazon’s far-field voice recognition to deliver Alexa functionality. And if that weren’t enough Alexa in your life, the company will also be building Amazon’s smart assistant directly into smart light switches it has planned for later in the year.
The Ecobee4 arrives in stores on May 15, priced at $249. The actual thermostat-centric skills sound like they’ll be relatively minimal at launch, including adjusting the room temperature, naturally, but the Alexa functionality means the system ships with the 12,000 or so other skills Amazon’s assistant is capable of. And far-field technology means it won’t be competing for your attention with other Alexa-enabled devices.
The company’s own press material make the whole undertaking sound vaguely ominous by “weaving the power of voice into the walls of entire households.” Any sort of privacy concerns you might have had around bringing always-on microphone enabled devices into your home almost certainly amplified when the prospect of them into the very walls of our houses.
Amazon says that its own Echo devices listen passively as they wait for their wake word, and the company is encrypting all of the information its sends to its AWS servers. But this recent growth of third-party hardware makers adopting Alexa functionality certainly feels like the start of a larger trend. And as always, it’s worth doing a cost benefit analysis of bringing voice functionality to your thermostat and walls.
For Amazon, however, these sorts of partnerships are ideal. After all, the company’s hardware plays have largely served as an in to other services, and all the Echo devices the company moved were really just conduits for brining Alexa to the masses. With an increasing number of hardware companies backing the assistant into their own versions of the Echo and other devices like smartphones, the company’s got everyone else doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to spreading the Alexa gospel.