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Why Amazon’s Echo Shines an Ominous Red Light When Its Microphone is Muted

This year Amazon followed up its cylindrical Echo (and its hockey puck-shaped Echo Dot) with a cloth-wrapped sphere-shaped Echo device. And Fast Company reports that one significant change was to the light pipe, “that glowing ring on top of the Echo that signals it’s talking or thinking.

“For the fourth generation, that light pipe has been moved to the bottom of the device, to reflect off tables or countertops, and provide a more ambient lighting experience that blends into one’s environment — with a catch.”

Once you hit the privacy button on your Echo, deafening it from hearing your speech, the ring glows a DEFCON 2 red until you unmute it. (Note: Google uses an orange to convey mute for its Assistant, as does Sony’s new PS5 controller that has a mic built in.) It’s not just overt; it’s borderline warlike, adding a Red October glow to your space. Echos have always glowed red when muted. Now your environment does, too.

When I mention this design decision, which seems to punish consumers who prefer privacy, Miriam Daniel, vice president of Echo and Alexa devices at Amazon, acknowledges, but brushes off, the criticism. “[Red] makes for a strong [statement]. There’s always a tradeoff. Is it too bright? Annoying? Too in your face?” she muses. But she argues that the greater benefit is that “it gives people a sense of comfort knowing the mic isn’t working.”
The article notes that in 2019, Amazon announced it had already sold 100 million Alexa-powered devices.

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