About 18 months ago, I turned my apartment into a smart home. For the most part, it’s great: Instead of arguing with my wife about who is going to get up and turn off the hall light, we just ask Echo to do it. But there are a few wrinkles. For one, if you touch the physical hall light switch for 5 seconds, it resets and thinks that it’s an aroma therapy diffuser and then won’t turn back into a light switch for a couple of weeks. But mostly, it’s that having the Echo Show means having a billboard in the kitchen and bedroom, and it’s the worst.
What is the Echo Show?
The Echo Show comes in several different sizes, and was billed as being a device like the Echo Dot, but with a screen so you can watch recipe videos and Amazon Prime, as well as display photos. That sounds great, mostly. But the problem that I have with it is that you can only set it as a photo frame for three hours before it goes back to being a digital billboard in your home.
I don’t know anyone who wants a digital billboard in their home.
Why is the Echo Show currently bad?
Right now the 15” Echo Show in my kitchen is cycling through screens suggesting that I ask Alexa what the fact of the day is, showing me three Amazon deals I would never want to buy, making other suggestions for ways I could interact with Alexa including that I make a pork salad (I don’t eat pork), and asking me to vote in a poll on how I, an Australian in Australia, celebrate Martin Luther King Day. The other day, it asked me to vote in a poll on my favourite out of Chris Evans and Chris Pratt, not even including one of the good Chrisses.
The small Echo Show in the bedroom is doing the same, but also begging me to turn on calendar notifications. I’m not telling Amazon what’s in my calendar.
There is no way to escape the ads. It seems like these Echo Show devices exist purely to show you ads, mostly for a product you have already purchased, rather than do anything you’d actually like them to do.
The only way I escaped the ads was once a software update went awry, and for two months the Echo Show in the kitchen thought that it was nighttime and was stuck on the photo frame. It wouldn’t do anything else, but it was a worthy trade.
I did try turning off everything other than photos in the Settings Home Content menu, but that seems to reset itself every week or two and it goes back to being a billboard.
You can try this, too, by going to settings, Home Content, and then just turning off everything you’re not interested in. And then keep doing that every time it resets.
Is Amazon doing anything to fix this?
Last year Amazon announced an Echo Show 8 device that can be used as “primarily” a digital photo frame! Yay!
Except you had to pay a monthly subscription free to get the device you had already paid for to show you photos you’d taken.
Which is somehow worse.
This is not the way.
My guess is that Amazon has done it this way because they want to be able to say that people choose to have the digital billboard, rather than a photo frame, and have stats that look like people with the option of having a digital photo frame still chose to have the ads only. But that might just be me being cynical.
To be fair, though, being able to turn everything else off in settings is new since I got my Echo Show, and that’s a really good change that they should be applauded for.
How should Amazon make the Echo Show suck less?
Let people fully customise their experience on a device they have paid for and put up in their own home. Chances are, if they have bought an Echo screen, they want to use Alexa and are Amazon customers in some way. I’m not sure what Amazon thinks they’re going to gain out of annoying people until they get rid of their devices, but I hope it’s not working for them. (Well, given Alexa is losing unimaginable amounts of money, it does not seem like it’s working for them.)
You don’t even have to get rid of all the ads (though I would really, really prefer it if they did), if that’s something they’re really attached to. But what if only one in ten slides was an ad for something the person might actually be interested in, like an Amazon Prime TV show they’d like. Or maybe show 20 pictures the person uploaded, and then one frame of their shopping list to remind them to buy eggs when they go to Aldi, or something.
Or allow users to put other kinds of content on there. What if there were games? Or you could create your own polls to share with family members rather than just dealing with whatever nonsense Amazon wants you to engage with?
Or, what if the screen was just off when you weren’t engaging with it? That could be fun. Could we try that?
Tech-wise, I’d also make the speakers better. Physically, I’d allow for more aesthetically-pleasing frame options.
But, really, as it stands now I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy themselves a digital Amazon billboard, unless Amazon was paying them for the wall space. Amazon needs to make the Echo Show more like a digital photo frame, or something else people actually want in their homes.
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