Amazon held a media event on Wednesday this week to announce a lot of new products, including Alexa devices, new Echo speaker devices and a few other surprises. Here are the highlights.
Details and Implications:
Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa got some new capabilities. It’s now more sensitive to emotion – if you yell at it, Alexa will understand and acknowledge your frustration with its imperfect responses. You’ll be able to add celebrity voices too with Samuel L. Jackson the first celebrity to have his voice used in Amazon’s “neural text-to-speech” engine on Alexa powered devices. Other famous stars will follow and there will be a fee for the feature, with each voice costing $0.99.
Other upgrades include: New multilingual modes that will let you switch between various languages; a new whitelist feature allowing parents to control contacts that their children can chat with through Alexa and a privacy feature allowing deletion of everything Alexa has heard that day.
Improved Echo Speaker: Amazon refreshed its original Echo device – the latest generation gets the same drivers and the 3-inch woofer as the Echo Plus, so it’s louder, clearer and has a more powerful bass response. It also launched new fabric designs and there’s a new blue colour option.
Echo Studio: This “enhanced” Echo experience is a high-end smart speaker tailored for 3D audio and aimed at audiophiles – it supports Dolby Atmos audio and can connect to 4K Fire TV Devices to provide the soundtrack to whatever you’re watching. It should also offer the higher-fidelity playback needed to take advantage of Amazon’s new HD Music service and will cost $200.
Echo Buds: Wireless Bluetooth earbuds featuring Bose’s smart noise isolation, intended to give them an edge over Apple’s Airpods. You can activate the built-in virtual assistant by voice, unlike other Alexa-enabled headphones. They have five hours of battery life and will sell for $130.
Echo Loop: This is Amazon’s push to get Alexa out of the house and into people’s hands, quite literally. The Echo Loop is an Alexa-enabled smart ring, with two microphones, a tiny speaker and haptic alerts that will let you talk to your hand to respond to notifications or ask Alexa a question and then lift to your ear to listen to the response. It will be released in limited quantity and cost $130.
Echo Frames: Designed to look like regular glasses there is no display or camera but they do feature discreet microphones so you can chat with Alexa. The glasses start at $179 and like the Echo Loop will be released in limited quantity i.e. invite only.
Fetch: A pet tracker that attaches to a collar to let owners monitor their dog from up to 500m away.
Other announcements included an 8in (20.3cm) Echo Show smart display for group video calls with several people on-screen at once. The Echo Glow a smart lamp that can change colours in time with music. A voice-controlled Smart Oven that can also scan barcodes on food items, with Alexa giving you suggested cooking times and finally Echo Flex, which is Amazon’s smallest Echo device that plugs directly into a power outlet and contains a microphone for Alexa queries and commands.
A huge launch of products confirms Amazon’s desire to extend Alexa’s reach into every part of people’s lives – strengthening ties with existing customers and opening avenues to tempt new customers in to the Amazon ecosystem. All devices are attractively priced as Amazon knows that once it can bring consumers into its ecosystem, it can drive revenue more effectively from them.