Amazon's DIY Echo
You still can't buy the Amazon Echo in the Middle East, even though it's been available in the States for more than a year and recently got a pair of companion devices - but you can make your own if you please.
And surprisingly, Amazon itself is the one behind the push. This week, the company posted incredibly detailed step-by-step instructions to GitHub on how to build your own makeshift voice assistant starting with a Raspberry Pi 2 (Model B) board.
Obviously, it takes a fair bit of work and some programming, not to mention a good amount of hardware. You'll need the Raspberry Pi 2 board and included micro-USB power cable, a microSD card with an operating system, an ethernet cable, a USB mini-microphone, a USB keyboard and mouse along with an HDMI monitor, and optionally a Wi-Fi adapter.
You'll also need an Amazon Developer account, but that's free to sign up for. It looks like a rather lengthy process to get everything up and running, but the savings could be immense: assuming you have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to use, the rest of the components should only cost about US$60 to purchase. Compare that to the US$180 price of the standard Echo.
There's one key difference beyond the lack of a proper case (official Echo seen above): you'll need to manually press a button to access Alexa, Amazon's vaunted voice assistant. But otherwise, you can tap into the same functionality and have Alexa answer questions, cue up music, place orders, and more.
Why would Amazon want to effectively give away its assistant without a hardware purchase? Because getting you into Amazon's ecosystem is the ultimate goal, as they'll gather data from your usage and potentially sell you items and services along the way. That's why Amazon is pushing other companies to build Alexa into their hardware.