In 2015, Amazon made the world of manufacturing an offer. Make a device with a microphone, a speaker, and an internet connection, they said, and we'll let you add in our virtual assistant Alexa, free of charge.
Now, GE is taking them up on it.
The device in question looks a lot like something that came out of Dyson's R&D department, but it's really just an internet-connected desk lamp. Plug it in and pair it with your phone via Wi-Fi, and you'll be able to control it alongside the C by GE smart bulbs in GE's smart lighting app. And, thanks to the addition of a microphone and speaker in the base, you'll be able to use it to talk to Alexa, too.
In essence, that makes this thing an Amazon Echo with a lamp growing out of its head (though given the size of the speaker, the sound quality might be closer to the pint-size Amazon Echo Dot). GE says you'll be able to use it just as you'd use an Echo -- just say the wake word, "Alexa," followed by a question or a command. No button press needed.
As with other Alexa products, you'll be able to ask it to wake you up in the morning, read off the day's news or weather forecast, tell you a joke, play a podcast from iHeartRadio, or stream some music from Pandora, Spotify or Amazon. You can also ask it to control any Alexa-compatible smart-home devices you might own (including the lamp itself, obviously), or enable any of Alexa's thousands of third-party "skills" -- essentially voice apps that teach Alexa new tricks.
For now, GE's just calling it the C by GE Lamp, though I'd challenge them to do better given the fact that it's such a unique-looking product. Preorders are expected to start in early 2017, with devices set to arrive on the C by GE website and on Amazon in the second quarter of the year.
Pricing isn't set yet, but a GE spokesperson tells me that they expect the lamp to cost less than the Amazon Echo, which sells for $180 in the US and £150 in the UK (that's about AU$240, converted roughly -- though Alexa isn't available in Australia yet). GE also tells me that the lamp will make its start in the US, as the Echo did, though it wouldn't rule out the possibility of expanding to other countries where Alexa is available, as well.