In a day filled with Echo announcements, the Echo Button was a clear standout. Not because it was a more useful or better product than the rest, but because it’s just weird. Where most of what the organization announced today was some iteration of an existing product line (be it the Echo or Fire TV), the Button is a peculiar, left area offering with a restricted case usage.
More than any existing Echo, the product resembles a Milton Bradley product from the 1980s — sort of a scaled-down version of Simon. How did such a bizarre product get added to the company’s road map? The way SVP of Devices David Limp tells it, the product was an accident.
The Button started off as an in-house reference design. “We first did the buttons as a reference device internally to prove gadgets out,” says Limp. “There’s a good deal of product complexity in that. It uses Bluetooth to connect to the device and you have to do that while Wi-Fi is working. So we put some lights we wanted to prove out the light API. These were a bunch of engineers wire wrapping the things together.”
Eight or nine months ago, the company was playing around with the device, demonstrating its trivia abilities, and finally chose to productize it. It is a contrast from the rest of the Echo offerings, which Amazon states are responses to customer suggestions, adding speakers that are better or a display. Useful additions people actually want.
According to Limp, the Amazon offices filled with products that didn’t make the cut. Regardless of how it may seem from the outside, Amazon really does reject Echo suggestions. In actuality, the Echo sat in development limbo for quite a few years because the company just could not get the product right.
“Rooms in this building are littered in things we did not let see the light of day because they’re just not right,” says Limp. “Echo was the way for a couple years before we launched it. It did not work very well. It had a good deal of latency. It was bad. My wife was very mad at me for a few years because it would awake in the middle of the night.”
The technology and world weren’t prepared for the original Echo in the years leading up to its launch, but the time is apparently just right for Alexa-enabled game-show buzzers.