We might all take the day off on December the 25th, but we expect our smart tech to keep working. Apparently, Amazon's Alexa smart assistant took exception to our Ebenezer Scrooge attitude this year, and went on strike on Christmas Day.
Amazon was presumably expecting a surge in the amount of Alexa devices connected and the number of queries, but it looks like their servers struggled to cope with the influx in the end, with many people's brand new Echo devices disappointingly refusing to work.
When you buy your mum an Amazon Echo and it’s having issues “understanding”
Great first impression. #AmazonEcho
— Tom Evers (@evers_burke) December 25, 2018
The Guardian reports that around 10am on Christmas Day, people's Alexa devices started responding to queries with "Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you right now."
— Toni Belle (@ToniBelleGifts) December 25, 2018
While that sounds like something your aunt would say after one too many festive sherries, what it actually means is that Alexa can't get a useful response from the server. The tech on the device itself is only capable of listening for the 'wake word' (usually 'Alexa,' but it can also be 'Echo,' 'Amazon' or 'Computer' if you've changed it). It then records what's said after the wake word, sends it off to Big Amazon to find out what it means, and responds appropriately. If Big Amazon doesn't come back with a translation, Alexa knows you want something, but doesn't know what. Hence the unhelpful error message.
— Darren Payne (@Dazp79) December 25, 2018
Amazon responded to say that "some Echo devices in Europe have had intermittent connections," which is a very vague and apology-free way of saying "yeah it's been borked but it's OK now."
Nonetheless, Alexa eventually woke up from her festive stupor (we've all been there) and seems to be firing on all cylinders again. Just as well, since the Echo Dot was the highest-selling item on the whole of Amazon for 2018 -- that'd be a heck of a lot of returns.