During a surprise event at its Seattle headquarters yesterday, Amazon announced a range of new voice-controlled devices. The new Echo products will further integrate the tech giant's Alexa voice assistant in customers' lives, giving marketers new and expanded opportunities to reach them at every point of their day-to-day routines. Plus, the new and improved products could help the tech giant reassert its dominance in the smart speaker and voice assistant space as it fights off Google, Apple and Samsung, while opening up new fronts of competition with companies like Sonos and Slingbox.
The major takeaway from Amazon's announcements is that its taking an all-over approach that will integrate Alexa throughout the home, and even in cars. While the costs of hardware make profits small, Amazon might see these devices as loss leaders, if voice purchasing finally takes hold as the company appears to be gambling. It took a similar approach to its Kindle devices, betting on content sales to underwrite any hardware losses. Voice commerce by smart home devices is starting to gain momentum, with 26% of the owners of smart speakers reporting that they have made a purchase by voice.
The numerous new devices introduced yesterday hinge on the improvement and expansion of Alexa's abilities. With that in mind, Amazon announced that the voice assistant now offers stereo pairing, new music notifications, email management, step-by-step cooking, location-based Routines, better smart home monitoring and more FreeTime features. The Routines feature has a new competitor in Apple's Siri Shortcuts, which rolled out this week and is already finding adopters.
"We’ve only scratched the surface of A.I.-powered inventions and we’ll continue to invent ways to make Alexa more useful for our customers," said Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist, Amazon Alexa, in a press release.
The AI improvements could make Alexa more conversational and interactive, which could then drive loyalty and purchases, according to performance marketing agency Performics, in a statement shared with Mobile Marketer.
"Amazon has been working on this feature for a while as it reduces friction in the adoption of skills, enabling them to rely on brands to increase functionality. Frankly, it’s a necessary step to move the devices from voice activated timers and speakers to an integrated utility in the home," said Matt Miller, EVP and global managing director of Performics.
If Amazon's smart home integration approach continue to make gains, the company might be able to encourage brands and developers to create skills to engage with consumers. Key to that will be the reception of the new and expanded line of Echo products that the company rolled out yesterday.
Better speakers in more places
A large part of Amazon's new line is better Echo speakers with improved sound quality and 70% louder sound — essential improvements since 70% of smart speaker owners use them to play music. Better sounding speakers could encourage consumers to buy more, increasing the integration of Amazon's Alexa throughout the house. The updated Echo Dot, which now resembles Google's Home Mini, is available to preorder for $49.99 and will be available next month. Amazon also updated the Echo Plus smart hub ($149.99), adding more sensors and local voice control that doesn't require an internet connection, removing another obstacle to greater smart home integration.
Along with the Echo Dot's improved sound, Amazon also announced new devices in the home audio space that could help Amazon compete not just with smart speaker makers, but makers of high-end audio equipment, like Sonos. These devices include the Echo Sub ($129.99), a 100W subwoofer that can be paired with other Echo speakers to create 2.1 stereo sound — a first for Amazon but a feature already offered by Apple's HomePod and Google Home Max. To drive better sound, it announced the Echo Link and Echo Link Amp, which include network connections, audio inputs and outputs. Designed to work with other Echo speakers, neither Link has a microphone. However, Amazon is opening multi-room music features to third-party devices with a free software developer kit (SDK) in an effort to increase adotpion.
Soon after Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi partnered with Google on in-car voice technology, Amazon announced plans to bring Alexa to automobiles with the Echo Auto. The eight-microphone device is designed for cars and connects via 12V outlet or USB for power and 3.5mm audio jack or Bluetooth for audio, using the Alexa smartphone app to allow drivers access to music, navigation and calling features. The device is currently available by invitation only for $24.99 and comes as mobile marketers figure out how to gain more of the $212 billion spent by U.S. consumers.
Expanded smart home and TV capabilities
As part of its whole home strategy, Amazon announced a variety of new products that could put Echo and Alexa in every room of the house. The company announced the Echo Input, a $34.99 device that turns any speaker into an Echo. It will be available later this year in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, and will be bundled with select third-party speakers. It compares favorably to the Google Chromecast Audio dongle, another $35 device, but one without a microphone. The company also announced a $24.99 Smart Plug that is compatible with certain fans, lights and coffee machines, a $59.99 AmazonBasics Microwave that connects to Echo devices, a $29.99 Echo Wall Clock and two new items in its line of Ring home security products, further expanding Alexa's smart home capabilities.
As Amazon looks to become a bigger part of customers' entertainment hours, both with its Prime Video service and rumored ad-supported video service, the comapny announced Fire TV Recast, a Slingbox-like DVR feature that allows users to watch and record free over-the-air (OTA) TV programming broadcast by ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS and The CW for free. With Fire TV Recast, the programming is viewable on Fire TV, Echo Show and compatible mobile devices.