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The inside story of how Amazon created Echo, the next billion dollar business no one saw coming...

The story of the Echo's origins, recounted by several insiders, reflects the ambitions and challenges within Amazon as it quietly set its sights on the tech industry's next big battleground.  

“It was an evolution of a product that was hard,” Limp, who is Amazon’s SVP of Device, told Business Insider. “I can’t underestimate the amount of work and invention that went into this.”


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Amazon's Bezos was a huge supporter of Echo from the get-go. But he also held the team to extremely high standards, given the unusual nature of the product the company was trying to invent. 

One major concern for Echo was latency, or the time it took for Alexa — the name of the talking virtual assistant that powers Echo — to respond to any query. The average latency of existing voice-recognition technology at the time was around 2.5 to 3 seconds, so the Echo team initially set the goal at 2 seconds, according to an early team member.

But when the team presented its plan to Bezos, Amazon’s CEO countered with a much more ambitious target.

“I appreciate the work, but you don’t get to where it needs to be without a lot of pain,” Bezos told the team in a meeting, according to one early team member. “Let me give you the pain upfront: Your target for latency is one second.”

The team was “shellshocked” because even companies that worked on voice recognition for decades were only able to bring latency down to 3 seconds at the time. But at the same time, Bezos' directive also motivated the team to go for what seemed like an impossible goal.

“You did such a good job convincing me that latency matters, that I want to make sure you believe in yourself,” Bezos said, according to the team member.

The key to getting latency down was to collect as much data as possible and constantly apply them to improve the product. The team did thousands of internal testing and weekly data analysis with speech scientists. Eventually, the team was able to bring latency down to below 1.5 seconds, far exceeding the speed of its competitors.

Yes but 1.5 seconds is not one second. The team failed. 

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