Amazon Echo Speaks, But Cannot Read

amazon echoAmazon's awesome-looking new in-home digital concierge* can do a hundred and one things, including answer questions, stream music, and tell you that it's time for you to get a watch, but this blogger has learned that bibliophile might not be happy with some of the Echo's shortcomings.

I just got email from Amazon pr which shared the bad news that the Echo won't support streaming audiobooks, and it won't be able to read Kindle ebooks aloud.

The Echo can stream the radio and stream music, so I suppose you could upload an MP3 audiobook and stream that, but it's not going to ship with support for either Audible or Kindle.

And that's a shame, because books would have been one of the reasons I would want to buy an Echo. I find the idea of having a book read to me while my hands are busy with house work appealing.

What's more, adding ebook and audiobook support would have turned the Echo into a very accessible "reading" device for the visually impaired, and the physically impaired. Amazon has taken a lot of grief from some quarters for the lack of audio support on the Kindle, and I think a voice activated reading device would have done a lot to salve that wound.

What do you think? Would you use a reading feature if it were available?

P.S. I got the description of "in-home digital concierge" from Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles podcast. It's a better phrase than anything I had come up with.


About Nate Hoffelder (11473 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

37 Comments on Amazon Echo Speaks, But Cannot Read

  1. This is a definite negative. The Echo is an audio device, yet it won’t play a major portion of Amazon’s audio content – Audible. I can understand it when a video device like the Fire TV won’t do it, but an audio device…?

  2. Well, native audible support would’ve been a nice plus but since it is Bluetooth enabled you can feed it audible or TTS from a phone or tablet.

  3. The main problem with this device is that you have to remember to use it. I’m sure people are going to buy this, use it once, and then leave it in a corner collecting dust.

    Audible has intergration with Cortana on Windows Phone, and Siri can play anything in the music library, including audiobooks. Another example they had on the video was NPR, and since thieir One app autoplays at start, it’s easy enough to open that with our assistants.

    A dock with a speaker is a better investment than this.

  4. I agree with you, I’m currently using an Anker bluetooth speaker (great, cheap speaker!)and regularly use it for audiobooks on my phone. Audible can stream books so I wouldn’t think it was a matter of storage, just choice.

    While I imagine there will be many updates in the future, I’m not too hopeful considering that Audible is an Amazon property and this functionality could have been added from the start.

    Amazon’s team is really making some bad moves lately, removing speaker plug from Kindle (meaning I won’t be buying any more), waiting so long to offer VOD to Android users (I am now getting movies elsewhere) and not offering the Google Play store for Fire customers (meaning I won’t be getting one of those either).

    I have been a longtime Amazon fan, but many of their decisions over the past few years has driven me into other markets.

  5. I watched the Amazon video for this and it’s pretty slick, but I would buy it in a heartbeat if I could say “Alexa, read ‘Moby Dick’ to me” and it would not only do so, but also pick it up from where we left it last time. (Not that far-fetched because that’s what we routinely get with streaming video on all the services.)

  6. I signed up for an invitation hoping that Audible was going to be supported. I suppose streaming from my phone might actually work better for picking up where I left off when I’m out and about, but I’d much prefer it to work on its own and for syncing to be more reliable.

  7. I agree that not reading Kindle Books is a definite drawback. I will probably still get the Echo if only for the Google answer and music streaming (i.e. Pandora from a phone). Hopefully we will get Kindle to speaker in an updated version but most likely in Echo 2.0.
    Unfortunately we the consumers are “hurting” as the Amazon Kindle development is pretty separate from the Amazon Hardware developers. Luckily Kindle development has been excellent in proving Kindle Readers for multiple environments (IOS and Android). Unfortunately it looks like the Kindle Reader won’t be in Echo. BTW I believe the first kindles with audio did offer text to speaker. (And the books weren’t Audible)

    • The very first Kindle supported Audible, actually, which Amazon didn’t even own yet. And the second two models (released in 2009 and 2010) had TTS and support for Audible. The last model to have audio support was the KTouch in 2011.

  8. This thing will pair as a Bluetooth speaker. So if you want to play audiobooks or TTS from your Fire, it will do that, though not by voice command.

    Audible content is not available via streaming at present. If and when that infrastructure exists, they can add that to what it can do as a standalone device. As they say ‘the brains are in the cloud’. That would also be a nice feature to have in the reading apps for ‘immersion reading’, since as long as you are online, you would not need to download and store huge audiobook files on the device.

  9. I put my name in because, let’s face it, getting selected would be really freaking cool.

    I agree that this thing should read your ebooks, either TTS or Audible. Logically, you’d think it would, but see previous sentence.

  10. What a pity audiobooks aren’t supported. I have an aunt who is going blind and a voice controlled device like this would be perfect if she could just say “Read book name ” or “Back” to go back a preset number of seconds or whatever.

    • I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the line stating: “More coming soon: Echo automatically updates through the cloud with new services and features” *could* mean we will have Audible capability at some point…hopefully soon.

  11. Let’s deluge Amazon with requests . This must happen, and it must happen soon! My 77 year old blind mother has a Kindle Fire, and an Audible membership, but can’t see to choose books so has to wait for a family member to set her up with each book.

    • Exactly! Same situation with my aunt. Audible and Whispersync could be so fantastic for the visually impaired IF someone at Amazon figured out that they need to be able to select books, rewind, etc. I had high hopes that echo would solve this problem but not yet.

  12. I guess we can deluge Amazon … but does anyone know of a similar device (which hopefully will be coming) that reads ebooks .. kindle and epub with a speaker and is voice operated?

  13. Seems like something they will eventually add. I wonder if the problem is some rights restrictions.

  14. I think the author is overlooking the fact that this is a very new (possibly even a ‘beta’) product and it has the advantage of being able to have its software updated to add additional functionality. So, I can’t help thinking that Amazon (certainly interested in selling Audible) is going to add the functionality of an audio reader to the unit.

    • I didn’t overlook the fact that it is in beta. I for one wanted to use the Echo this way and I thought everyone else would be interested to learn that they could not.

      And do you know the best way to get a feature added? Show that consumers are interested. Which is what I have done here.

  15. How about podcasts? Anybody know if they’ll be streamed?

  16. Reading of Amazon books would be a hugh win for Echo. It should also allow purchase of ebooks verbally. Amazon is missing a big marketing here. Echo should also be upgraded to interface with Amazon TV. It has a great amount of potential and hopefully someone from Amazon will read these posts and work to incorporate some of these ideas. I am signed up for the promotion and looking forward to being selected.

  17. I received my Echo, yesterday and it was as easy to configure through the android smartphone app, just as promised.

    I like it a lot – guess it seems very Star Trek being able to address the device by voice.

    I, too, was disappointed/kinda shocked to learn that it did not currently support reading from my Audible library (an Amazon company after all). I figure they are rolling it out with the idea of providing a very basic core functionality and add features as they go along.

    I think this thing would really fly off of the shelves if it supported e-books and audio books.

    I bought mine because, well, I just liked the idea .. Also being a Prime Member mine was only $99.00

    Only have had this for a day (almost) and here are some things I’ve noted about the device:
    Very easy to configure and bluetooth link to a smartphone.

    I like the remote which allows you to speak/interact with Alexa/Echo. I have two floors in my house and the remote comes with a magnetic mount support which I have attached to my fridge in the floor upstairs (Alexa is in my bedroom). The thing I like about the remote is that I am just as likely to need it in the kitchen area (add to shopping list, etc.) as in my bedroom. One thing I haven’t figured out is if there is a way it will sync to a bluetooth speaker so that one can hear it on another floor. The remote reaches Alexa from the second floor in the kitchen (my kitchen sits right above the area where my bedroom is – so maybe that is why I can hit it with the remote) and I can hear her replies (a little) from the kitchen upstairs.

    Weather, shopping list, facts/’factoids’, to-do-list (also use it as a memory aid for birthdays), jokes. Last night I had Alexa stream NPR so that I could listen to Prairie Home Companion. Cool thing is that it will also sync up on Iheart Radio (which I normally use on my phone in the car) where I have some of my favorite radio stations already configured.

    BTW, the shopping list syncs to your smartphone (or tablet) which is great for me since I normally don’t even go with a shopping list to the store. Most of the time I do okay, but more times than I like to count I’ve forgotten something I really needed. With Alexa I can add to a list as I go about my day to day and then have the entire list on my cell phone.

    Out of curiosity (just tried it right now), I told Alexa that I wanted Scarlett Johannsen and Alexa told me that ‘she’ would add Scarlett to my shopping list. 😀

    My vocation is a full-time flight instructor and I have a long commute (about an hour or more each way) from San Francisco to San Jose. I’ve been trying to see if there was a way I could get Alexa to get me the aviation weather reports, but so far just get a basic ‘general’ weather report.

    As much as I like it so far, I am really hoping they add more functionality (may also just be a learning curve on my part so I am likely only scratching the surface in what I’ve tried).

    Of the things I’d like to see Alexa do would be provide current travel times for my commute (I’d like Alexa to know my commute). Oddly enough it doesn’t seem to get any information on movie showtimes, that would be nice. I don’t care so much about buying them through the device as I have a smartphone app that will do that, but having the latest movie information through Alexa (including synopsis) would be great. Would MOST DEFINITELY like to see Alexa (I guess I’ve anthropomorphized the device already ) be able to read from my Audible audiobook library. In many ways it seems unthinkable that it didn’t ship that way – but I suspect that is coming and it is one of the things I’m going to include in my feedback to the Echo email address that appears of the smartphone app to provide feedback to Amazon on the device).

    I think I kind of understand the whole ‘invitation’ process. I would suspect that Amazon is wanting to limit the amount of these devices out there until it can get more info/feedback on functionality that the users let them know they’d like to see. Once that group of people have used the device enough, I suspect that Amazon will flesh-out the functionality of Echo even further. I’ve noticed that there isn’t a way to add a product review for this item on Amazon. I suspect that is to ensure that there aren’t too many complaints about the initial limited functionality of the device.

    Again, I think this is a terrific concept and I really would like to see it supported and grow (both from the user AND especially Amazon’s development end). If you are a Prime Member I’d say, go ahead and buy one. The $99 dollars off already ‘pays’ for the fee you paid for your annual Prime membership, so go for it. At 199.99 though (for non-prime members) I think that is a little steep for what it currently does. I’d say if Amazon knocked off $25 or so that they would find a sweet spot in terms of converting interest into sales for the non-Amazon Prime buyer. If you want one and have always wanted to have Amazon Prime,,, well maybe there’s an excuse to buy the Amazon Prime to get the Echo for $99. 🙂

    So far, so good – but as I said it needs more, but I assume more functionality is just around the bend. I am enjoying my purchase so far.

    • I am so jealous. That sounds like a fun new toy. I can’t wait for it to be hacked for unusual uses.

      • I’d be thrilled to get a furshlugginer invitation. The invitations seemed to go out in an almost random manner, except Amazon does nothing at random. Perhaps they will send out more this week…who knows?

        • One thing I have heard is that most of the people who got an invite are also Fire HDX owners.

          • Timothy Wilhoit // 23 November, 2014 at 10:01 pm //

            Well, durn, Beelzebezos should have sent an Echo invite to this HDX owner. There’s a huge thread on Amazon’s Kindle forum and it’s very murky as to what demographic warrants an Echo invitation. The first invitations seemed to go out last Tuesday(ish) and they had a 7-day expiration date. We shall see if this Tuesday brings any more invites. I’m not getting my hopes up.

          • Timothy Wilhoit // 25 November, 2014 at 10:29 am //

            I guess since Bezos religiously reads your site and took pity on my whinging Echolessness, I got an opportunity for a $99 buy on an Echo. I shall see if the giddy reactions from last week’s Echo purchasers have any basis in reality. 😉

          • See? I keep telling everyone I have powers beyond those of normal men. Glad I could help!

  18. just got mine today.

    this is an amazing device. this is also a vending machine/market research device for amazon.

    the voice features are great, i can play my music (from my amazon collection), listen to the news, listen to the radio (kexp, kuow, you name it), check weather, ask for time, set alarm… the “always on” conversational presence is great.

    the microphone array and “noise cancellation” magic echo is doing seems very effective, the device seems to always understand me, even when something else is already playing.

    yes, the device can’t play audible content, but i assume this — and a bunch more — is on its way, since amazon can easily update the software on the device and on their servers.

    additionally, echo can be used as a very, very good bluetooth speaker (“alexa, pair bluetooth”), so i can simply play my audiobooks from my iphone.

    there is no ios app at the moment (i assume it’s coming), but the web interface “app” is pretty neat, and i also have a kindle fire on which i install amazon echo app.

    this is an amazing device, major kudos to amazon’s engineers.

    that said, i cringe every time i think about my every utterance directed at alexa (but not others, i hope/assume?) being transmitted to and stored on amazon’s, analyzed, and used to market.

    PS i think it would be great if gadget reviews included analysis of privacy “features” of devices being reviewed (e. g. how much of the information is being transmitted to amazon’s servers? what does/can amazon do with it, according to their privacy policies? etc).

  19. I agree. The first thing I thought of after watching the promo for Echo was audiobook capability. I will most likely still buy Echo, but they need to update it to work with audiobooks.

  20. I got mine on Friday, and have enjoyed using it. I agree that the remote is a particularly good feature, since I used the magnetic holder to attach it to the side of my stove hood, so I can add to my shopping and to do lists as things occur. I previously got my cellphone and opened an app to add items, which was convenient, but the Echo is even more convenient as the list is automatically synced to the phone.

    I have used the Bluetooth feature to listen both to audiobooks and text-to-speech from Kindle books. The speaker is excellent, with an easy volume control, so it works well. Once your device is paired you can command connection any time to listen from tablet or phone. I am lucky to have an HDX and a mirroring t.v. that is connected to my home sound system, so if I am moving out of the central area of the house where I have the Echo I can listen to books that way. It is a little more hassle than the Echo, so I will undoubtedly continue to use the Echo for this purpose frequently, since I do many household tasks within range of the Echo.

    At first I couldn’t find the settings for alarm volume and local zipcode (to make my weather forecast accurate), but I emailed customer service since it was not a pressing issue. Still, typical of the excellent Amazon customer service I have come to expect, I got an answering email within a half hour. Kudos.

    My 5-year-old grandson is enamoured of the questions feature, and he can request the music playlist I compiled for him in the cloud without needing my aid or navigating the more complicated cloud menu on the television … he has the skills, but I prefer he not tinker with a system that I have customized to my needs. The Echo is so easy; simply say “Alexa, shuffle my playlist [name]”.

    This morning I asked for the Serial Podcast I am currently addicted to, and within minutes I was listening to the latest episode. Yay! NPR’s Fresh Air is sure to become my next easy listen.

    I realize that the Echo is a toy that duplicates functions that I already enjoy using other media, however, at the Prime price point and the added efficiency (and my penchant for tech), I am very pleased. I am looking forward to future enhancements.

  21. We are hoping to get an invite so that we can give an Echo to a blind woman who my wife has been reading to for decades. This device, in its present form, will make her life considerably more pleasant. And, as mentioned, if the audible reader feature develops, it will change her life.

  22. I’ve had my Echo now a little over two weeks and I simply love it!! I like the interaction between “Alexa” and me. I have submitted several ideas for the development team at Amazon to add to her capabilities, such as giving recipes…I love to cook, and, it would be helpful to not only get weather forecasts, but for Alexa to pop on with any storm warnings in a given area, like for tornado’s and hurricanes…that might save lives.

    I’m 62 years old not exactly a wiz about tech gadgets or computer programming, but this little device has gladdened my heart. I look forward to more apps coming for Alexa and my life.

  23. Just got my echo an hour ago. Wish it would read my audiobooks.

  24. Another vote for TTS… Reading Kindle books outloud would be a great feature… for me with tired eyes at the end of a day, and for the vision-impaired too.

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  1. Want Your eBooks Read to You? Amazon's Working on an SDK for the Echo ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels
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