Amazon Echo gains new features days ahead of price hike

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This week’s biggest Amazon-related story has got to be the introduction of the Wi-Fi-enabled Dash Button, an Internet of Things-fueled spin on the way people order groceries and other home-use products. Mind you, however, it’s not the only connected-home experiment the company is undertaking with select Amazon Prime members as willing guinea pigs.

There’s also the Echo cloud-enabled interactive speaker, which the e-tailing titan began selling on an invite-only basis back in November and which is about to get costlier. According to a recent update to Echo’s official page, Prime subscribers have until April 7 to request an invite for the chance to snag the Siri-in-device-form at the current introductory price of $99. If you fail to act in time, you will have to cough up twice as much.

Why this matters: That’s quite a bargain, considering how many users think that Echo acquits itself rather well as a voice-activated Internet-connected speaker if not as a virtual assistant. And it’s only going to get better, with an SDK (software development kit) on its way and third-party apps not far off . More importantly, the SDK could lead to the Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled device finally becoming the smart home’s voice and ears—something many, including us, would like to see.

More boom for your buck

The company added support for Pandora music streaming in January and a recent update has made it even better. Now Echo users no longer need a smartphone or tablet to fire up their favorite Pandora station. They can instead direct Echo’s on-board voice assistant Alexa to play it for them. (You can ask Alexa to either play a station for a particular genre, or create one for your favorite artist or band.)

Echo has also gained the ability to rattle off Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer information, including scores and game schedule. This functionality was previously limited to the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

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