Amazon reimagines Echo and expands device family
Amazon has announced a wide range of new Echo products, including a much-anticipated revamped version of its original Echo smart speaker, the smart home-focused Echo Plus, the screen-enabled Echo Spot, an Alexa-enabled Fire TV device, gaming-friendly Echo Buttons, and an appliance that makes phone calls called the Echo Connect, according to a company press release.
The newly redesigned Echo device will cost about $100, about $80 less than it previously cost. The Echo Plus will sell for $150 and comes with a Philips smart lightbulb and the Echo Spot is priced at $130. The Echo Connect will be $35 and the Bluetooth-enabled Echo Buttons will go for $20 per pair.
Amazon also announced a partnership with BMW to put the Alexa virtual assistant into BMW cars starting next year, similar to a deal Amazon announced at the beginning of this year with Ford Motor Co.
From September through early October, it seems like Apple, Amazon and Google are pretty much dominating the pre-holiday product launch news. Good luck to anyone else trying to get noticed. First it was Apple, announcing three new iPhones and a new software update, and next week, we are likely to kick off October with the rumored launch of a new Google Home and other products. This week, it was Amazon's turn.
The unveiling of the shorter, sleeker new Echo device comes after reports surfaced in July that Amazon was revamping the original member of its popular smart speaker family. What we got instead was not only a redesigned Echo, but also an Echo Plus focused on smart home applications. The Echo Plus comes as the smart home device competition between Apple, Amazon and Google is surely about to heat up.
Meanwhile, there were other devices we didn't entirely expect: The Echo Spot, with a display, seems to be positioned somewhere between the original Echo Dot and the new Echo Show. A new Fire TV device enabled with Alexa was teased in recent days, though what Amazon announced this week appeared to be a different device than what had been reported. In addition, the Echo Connect, a sort of landline speaker phone, was an unheralded surprise, as were the new Echo Buttons for gaming. It is not completely clear how these last two devices might drive shopping and commerce in the way that the other Alexa-enabled devices do, but one thing we have learned is that where Echo and Alexa go, commerce is sure to follow.
Despite past missteps when it comes to devices, Amazon appears committed to growing a device family around the Echo — and for just about any use that can be imagined inside the consumer household. The only thing we haven't seen is a new smartphone, and that could be on the way. At this point, it's fair to wonder if Amazon could eventually re-brand all of its devices — current Fires and Kindles included — as Echo devices.
The Alexa partnership with BMW is significant, too, as Amazon has illustrated that it wants to get Alexa into as many non-Amazon devices as possible — and this isn't the only partnership Amazon has made recently. Amazon also partnered with Sears to get Alexa into Kenmore appliances and with Kohls to feature some of its products in stores (Kohls also recently announced that it will be accepting Amazon returns).
Apple just did its best to remind everyone that it sets the bar where consumer electronics are concerned and Google will issue its rebuttal next week, but both of them have another giant to contend with whose device future is looking brighter than ever.