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If Amazon Builds a Smaller Echo, It Needs to Always Be Listening

Amazon EchoAmazon Echo
Amazon EchoStacey Higginbotham/Fortune

Amazon is building a smaller version of its Echo voice-controlled speaker and personal assistant, according to the Wall Street Journal. The new device would cost less, be battery-powered, and would be the size of a beer can as opposed to the original design that is comparable in size to a Pringles potato chip can, the report said.

By making a smaller version, Amazon hopes to sell more Echos and get more people to use its Alexa digital assistant to play music, turn on and off lights at home and answer questions. Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment for the story.

The Amazon Echo (AMZN), which costs $180, was one of the hottest gadgets of the holiday shopping season and a star of CES, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas last week. Carmaker Ford (F) has partnered with Amazon so that Ford customers who also own an Echo can control their lights and other home devices using their car’s software while they are driving. Other partnerships include alarm vendors Vivint and so that their customers can turn off and on various aspects of their home monitoring through voice commands.

WATCH: For more on the Amazon Echo see mine in action.

Ooma, the cloud-based phone company, and others have also announced partnerships with the Amazon Echo. However, a smaller Echo only makes a small bit of sense. Yes, it will bring the device into more homes, but at the cost of some of its functionality. The Wall Street Journal says that unlike the more expensive Echo, the smaller version won’t always be listening. Instead, users will have to press a button to activate the voice recognition feature. Owners will have to press a physical button or perhaps use a smartphone to tell the Echo, “Play David Bowie,” or “Look up today’s calendar,” or “Turn on downstairs lights.”

As someone who interacts with my devices using voice, touch and keypads, half the thrill of having an Amazon Echo is being able to make things happen without lifting a finger—or a smartphone. The true value of having smaller Echoes would be in having multiple speakers to place around the house that are linked to main Amazon Echo. If you need to command them via the Bluetooth remote or by touching them, you can, but they are more of an accessory to the big Echo than something you’d play with on their own. You could then use the smaller speakers to spread music around your home as opposed to using them to replicate all of the Amazon Echo’s features.

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Even as a gateway product to get people to upgrade to the bigger Amazon Echo, I think a smaller, less functional Echo is less interesting because, again, the magic of the Amazon Echo isn’t that it’s an amazing speaker, or that it is linked to all of these services. It’s that it is a decent speaker that is linked to all of these services that feels magical because you control it with your voice—and nothing else. When you take out your voice, you take out the magic. Can the Alexa services such as turning on lights, a seven minute work out, games and other options, crammed into a smaller, cheaper device compensate?