Amazon has let loose with a second annual torrent of new Alexa-imbued products and smart-home skills, as it looks to consolidate its lead in connected consumer technology.
The pre-holiday hardware includes new and updated Echo wireless speakers and accessories, plus a mobile version for cars; a smart microwave oven, representing Amazon’s first private-label appliance; a DVR for broadcast TV; and, perhaps most significant, a no muss-no fuss physical module for manufacturers that seamlessly integrates Alexa into their products.
Tom Taylor, senior VP of Amazon Alexa, made no bones about the company’s goal of smart-world saturation. “We want you to have access to Alexa everywhere — in your kitchen, in your living room, in your office, and now in your car or truck,” he said.
The plan includes a slew of updated Echoes, including:
- a new Echo Dot, upgraded with a new shape, new fabric and new speaker for louder, richer sound, albeit at the same retail price of $50;
- an improved Echo Plus, now featuring a larger 3-inch neodymium woofer for greater bass and volume and a new fabric finish, but with the same $150 price point and built-in Zigbee hub for automatic setup with compatible smart products; and
- a redesigned Echo Show, still $230, but now with a larger 10-inch HD touchscreen; neodymium drivers and Dolby processing for improved sound; new integrations with Hulu and NBC; and, like the Plus, a built-in Zigbee smart-home hub.
New to the speaker family is Echo Auto, a road-ready product extension that works off a car’s 12V power outlet or USB port, connects to the audio system via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack, is controlled by the Alexa smartphone app, and features an eight-microphone array to help the virtual assistant hear over road noise.
There’s also a bunch of Echo accessories, including:
- a 10-inch, battery-powered Wall Clock that essentially serves as a timer;
- the Echo Input, a disc-like attachment that adds Alexa to a non-Echo speaker;
- the Echo Sub, a $130 subwoofer that can be paired with two Echo speakers for a 2.1 stereo system; and
- the Echo Link and 60W 2-channel Echo Link Amp, which connect to a home audio system for accesses to Alexa-streamed sounds.
The Echo Dot, Plus and Sub are available for pre-order and will begin shipping in October. Echo Auto is available by invitation only and will start shipping later this year.
The Wall Clock, Input and Link will also be available sometime later this year, although the Link Amp won’t ship until early 2019.
The Link, Link Amp and Wall Clock also await authorization by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Amazon said.
Beyond Echo, the company has introduced a $60 Alexa-enabled microwave oven under its AmazonBasics brand, which offers “everyday items” like cables, batteries and housewares at value prices.
Available Nov. 14, the countertop model has 700W of power and a 0.7-cubic-foot capacity, but differs from the pack -- including an Alexa-compatible microwave from GE -- with its host of quick-cook voice presets and ability to reorder popcorn automatically through its onboard Dash Replenishment feature.
It also represents the e-tailer’s first appliance product under its own badge, and another step further into majaps following last year’s exclusive Kenmore distribution deal with Sears.
Also new is a $25 Wi-Fi Smart Plug that lends voice control to lights, fans, appliances and other household devices via an electrical outlet.
The Smart Plug, along with the microwave oven and new Echo products, feature a new “Wi-Fi simple setup” that connects smart devices to Alexa and a home network by scanning a bar code or using one’s voice.
As a further Alexa inducement, Amazon will be rolling out a batch of additional new features over the coming months, including Skype and the Tidal streaming music platform; email integration; the aforementioned Echo stereo pairing; an “Alexa Guard” security mode for automated lighting and alerts; a “Hunches” feature that learns household routines and alerts owners when something’s askew; and Whisper Mode, which allows users to converse with Alexa in hushed tones.
To help drive further innovations and extend Alexa’s IoT hegemony, Amazon also introduced a host of new tools for manufacturers and developers, including v4 of its smart-home APIs; a new developer language to help blend voice with visuals; and an Alexa Connect Kit (ACK), featuring the aforementioned hardware module.
The latter, when integrated into a product along with a production-ready ACK code, can connect any device to Alexa and the Internet without the need for managed Cloud services, Alexa skills or complex networking and security firmware, Amazon said.
The company used the ACK to build its new microwave oven, and said manufacturers including Procter & Gamble, Midea and Hamiton Beach are already employing it to develop new devices. Scott Tidey, a senior VP at Hamilton Beach, said the ACK will help “reduce time to market for new product lines” while offering more features consumers want.
While Amazon’s emphasis was clearly on smart home, it also kept the video fires burning with Fire TV Recast, a DVR for cord-cutters wishing to collect over-the-air broadcasts. Two versions will be available beginning Nov. 14: a 2-tuner, 500GB model with 75 hours of HD-content capacity for $230, and a 4-tuner, 1TB iteration that holds up to 150 hours of HD recordings for $280. Both require an HDTV antenna and the Fire TV app, which guides users through the DVR’s setup and streams its recordings to any Fire TV or compatible device.