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Introducing Echoes

What is Echoes?

Echoes iconEchoes is a voice announcement system for Mac networks. Install a copy on each Mac on your network and you can make quick voice announcements to one, some, or all other Macs on the same network. Echoes uses Bonjour to find other copies in order to make it trivial to setup and easy to use for households and small businesses. Echoes’ usefulness is in the ease of making an announcement. Choose an option from the menu, or press a keyboard shortcut, record your announcement, and press return. That’s it! No dialing, no address book searching, and no signing in to anything.

A Little History…

Several years ago, Parliant used a phone system that had a nice feature: pick up a handset, enter a code, and make an announcement that played over all the other phones in the office. This was immensely useful for several reasons. We used it to find out where the boss was (often not at his desk), call others to go to lunch, tell others to come view our latest prototype for a product we were working on. Basically anything that was immediate and where the recipients expected immediacy. Email or text messaging usually do not carry the same expectations.

Later we moved to a new office, and working without a phone system of any kind for a while. We missed our announcement feature immediately. Finding someone, especially when they weren’t at their desk, could be difficult, and rounding everyone up for whatever task could also take a long time. Since we all had Macs on our desks, it’d be great if we didn’t have to rely on a relatively expensive phone system to do this. Not only that, there must be other offices that don’t have these systems but do use Macs on their desks that could be benefitting from this. We decided that this could be a real product.

Recording Interface

Challenges

We wanted to make this easy. Easy to use and easy to set up. Initially we thought of a client-server model. But not everyone has an available server, and would we make the server run on the Mac, other UNIX, etc.? We decided on a peer-to-peer model using Bonjour. With Bonjour every copy of Echoes is aware of all the other copies on the network, and can track whether they come and go, and there is no network configuration required.

We also didn’t want the user to think “why don’t I just use email?” or “I’ll just use FaceTime.” It must be quicker and easier to use for the product to have appeal. Two-way intercom systems are exceptionally easy to use. You hold a button, speak your message, and let go. We wanted to approach that level of easy. We could have done exactly that but there were caveats. When your keyboard shortcuts have modifiers (shift, command, control, etc.) it can be difficult to keep holding it down. It also makes it difficult to cancel if you make a mistake in your announcement - a worthwhile feature that traditional intercom systems do not have. We decided on the next best thing. Press the keyboard shortcut, record the message, and press return (or Cancel if you change your mind). We allow customizing all of the announce commands with keyboard shortcuts; and we have menu commands to fall back on.

Today

Since developing Echoes, we’ve found several other uses for Echoes. We’ve implemented a group feature so we can announce to a subset of the people in our office. We’ve added a quick reply feature so we can now easily reply to the sender of the previous announcement. We also now use it in our homes, which greatly reduces yelling back and forth between family members.

We also have more ideas for future versions of Echoes. While we can not divulge them just yet, we are actively investigating and considering them carefully to enhance the app and make it useful in even more scenarios. And of course, we welcome any customer feedback and use it in our planning.

If you’d like to try Echoes, it is available on the Mac App Store.

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