Seattle — Amazon.com has released its Echo smart wireless speaker into general distribution through its website.
The voice-controlled device was in development since 2011 and entered limited, invitation-only distribution last year.
The 9.25-inch-tall cylindrical speaker features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and dual downward-firing drivers for immersive, omnidirectional audio.
But the real differentiator is its array of seven microphones that can pick up the user’s voice in a noisy room. With them owners can access “Alexa,” Amazon’s cloud-based information service – think Siri or Google Now – that can provide news, weather, traffic, sports, music and information upon request.
Users can also control lighting and household switches through Alexa, when used in concert with Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue devices.
“The customer response to Amazon Echo has been incredibly positive, and we’ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible,” said Amazon Echo VP Greg Hart.
Indeed, Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledged last November that “We didn’t build enough of those, but we’re working on that.”
Hart also thanked Echo’s early customers for their “incredible engagement and for providing us with invaluable feedback to help shape Echo as it evolves.” Customer input led to the addition of such features as Audible, Pandora, home automation, sports scores and calendar, he said.
The device carries a $179.99 retail and is now available for order at Amazon.com/echo. Wide-scale shipping begins on July 14.