The Difference Between Amazon Alexa and Echo (The “API Mandate” Is Alive!) – New Video

People sometimes use the terms “Amazon Alexa” and “Amazon Echo” interchangeably, as though they are the same thing. But they are actually different.

Amazon Alexa is the smart cloud platform used by Amazon, and this can be accessed on our phones, through our smart watches, in our cars – and yes, through Amazon Echo.

Amazon Echo is the produce range that includes Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Flex and the full-size Echo devices. They are physical devices with a microphone and speaker. But without an internet connection (and Alexa), they are useless.

This video explores this topic in more detail, and you can also read more about this here.

0:00 Intro
0:43 Echo vs Alexa key difference
1:00 Alexa can do loads
1:34 The API mandate
2:48 Specific example of Alexa vs Echo
4:13 Wrapping up

Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Tristan from Smart Home Point. Sometimes people get confused about the difference between Amazon “Alexa” and Amazon “Echo”, so because I’m a pedantic kinda guy, I wanted to do a video today to clear up this confusion.

The short answer is that these are all Amazon Echo devices: they are physical things that you can hold in your hand. This has a speaker and microphone to listen to what you say, and it then plays back audio and music. When you say “Alexa”, this Echo device will light up – but it’ll then transmit everything else you say back to Amazon’s smart cloud platform: in other words, to the Alexa platform.

So that’s the key difference – Echo is a physical device which requires the internet to actually communicate everything to and from Alexa. So an Echo device is completely useless without Alexa (or the internet) – it can’t really do anything itself, apart from try and detect the command word “Alexa”. However the reverse is not true – Alexa can do loads without Echo devices.

That’s because Alexa is – as I mentioned before – the smart cloud platform by Amazon. Google has Google Assistant, Apple has Siri and Amazon has Alexa. Alexa is bundled into many things: our smartphones, Fire TVs, our cars, smartwatches and a load more. Echo devices are just one way of accessing Alexa – even though it’s a pretty popular way, with a quarter of all American homes actually owning an Echo!

With all that said, I wanted to put my developer hat on and give a concrete example of the interaction between Echo and Alexa. Before I do that though, I must explain that so far I have explained Alexa as though it’s one big lump of software. That’s not actually correct though. Back in 2002, Jeff Bezos – aged 38 – told all of Amazon’s software developers to change how their software worked and communicated with each-other. This led to something known as the API mandate, and it basically means that Amazon’s Alexa platform is made up of dozens – or even hundreds – of tiny little bits of software (known as microservices), that each do one small task. You can actually use many of these services yourself via Amazon AWS.

One Alexa microservice will take your Human voice, and convert it to computer commands. Another Alexa service will analyze these computer commands, and work out what other microservices need to be called – to process what you’re asking for. Another one might start streaming music to a device – such as your Echo or your phone.

So going back to my example, if I said to my Echo device “Alexa, play Miley Cyrus’ latest hit song”, my Echo device will hear the command word “Alexa” and start listening. It will also check that there’s an active internet connection (and complain to you if there’s not!).

As you keep speaking – in other words, as you say “play Miley Cyrus’ latest hit song” – the Echo device will capture this, and stream it up to Amazon’s Alexa platform. This will be routed through a few Amazon firewalls before hitting a microservice that actually checks that this Echo device is allowed to play this request – this device could actually be stolen and be “account locked”, for example, so Amazon Alexa will do some initial checks before processing my request further.

Assuming everything’s fine, your voice will be sent to an Alexa microservice that will convert your voice saying “play Miley Cyrus’ latest hit song” into computer commands. A different Amazon microservice will then analyze these commands, and route your request to yet another microservice. This other microservice will be a “music discovery” microservice, and it will try and work out what Miley Cyrus’ latest hit song is – ultimately deciding that “Angels Like You” matches your request the best. This information will then be passed onto yet another Alexa service, which will start streaming the song “Angels Like You by Miley Cyrus” to my Echo device. In this example, Alexa did 95% of the work – your Echo device just used its microphones and speakers to listen to you and play a song.

And that’s pretty much it for today’s video! I actually go into this in even more information on my blog, so I’ll put a link to that down in the description if you wanted to read more on this particular topic. But other than that I hope you found this video useful. If you did, please click the thumbs up button which will tell YouTube that more people should see this video. Please also consider subscribing to my channel and clicking the little bell icon which will notify you when I release new videos. Thank you!

About Tristan Perry

Tristan Perry is a software developer who is passionate about tech gadgets, DIY and housing. He has therefore loved seeing smart homes hit the mainstream. Tristan also has an academic background (in Math & Computer Science), and so he enjoys digging into the technical ways that smart home devices work.

Tristan owns close to a dozen Amazon Echo devices, way too many Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips, a boat-load of Ring Cameras and Doorbells... and a bunch of other smart home devices too (from Reolink, Google Nest, GLEDOPTO and others).

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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