New era of home help – but not just yet for Kiwis

Alexa at your command (Youtube)
Alexa at your command (Youtube)

If you've ever wanted your own personal assistant to help run your life, then perhaps the time is here.

Tech companies have been developing their digital assistants for devices like Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana.

Now shopping giant Amazon has put its own assistant "Alexa" into a home device that is always listening.

Simply say "Alexa" and ask away. The Echo device should answer your questions, add things to your shopping list and even order you an Uber or a pizza.

Local 'techspert' Paul Spain of Gorilla Technology has been trialling the Amazon Echo which costs about US$199 (NZ$ 280).

He says so far it's only formatted for use in the United States, so it can't help with New Zealand based questions.

And that's true, when I asked it to spell Whakapapa I got the silent treatment - I admit that was an unfair question.

Amazon Web Services' (AWS) Glenn Gore, who was in Auckland for the AWS Cloud summit, says it's a matter of time.

"We have to train Alexa to understand different accents so it was employed in the US first."

Mr Gore demonstrated the Echo device and Alexa  to 2000 conference delegates to show how outside independent software programmers can develop 'skills' for the device because it's an open platform.

It's the latest battlefront in the consumer tech war. Amazon was first with the Echo but Google has announced a similar device called Google Home, although it's not on the market yet.

Glenn Gore says it's not just about the home environment.  

"Also businesses are looking at it as well, looking at how they can use it for tier 1 support calls like 'I want to change my address' ".

Paul Spain says while such devices have yet to be modified for New Zealand, it won't be too long.

"We will in the not too distant future be in the position when we have robots in our homes, robotic vehicles, lots more interaction."

To give Alexa its due, when we asked for it to play Split Enz -- no problem. It blasted out 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat'.

But then when Paul Spain asked about the weather, we got a report for Seattle.

Amazon says Alexa is a learning device and will adapt, it just needs a few more lessons.