Amazon announced 15 new or updated Echo devices and more than two dozen new Alexa-powered features and capabilities, as the e-commerce giant continues to refine its virtual assistant technology and expand its ability to be used in more locations and situations, according to an Amazon press release.
New devices include the Echo Auto, allowing Alexa capabilities to be used in any model of car; the AmazonBasics Microwave oven, with both Alexa and Amazon Dash replenishment built-in; an Echo Wall Clock; and several Echo devices to augment Alexa’s music features; along with updated versions of the Echo Plus, Dot and Show; and more, according to a ZDNet post.
New features include Alexa Guard, a component that users activate when they leave their homes, and that sends alerts about anomalous events in the home, like glass breaking or a smoke alarm going off; Frustration Free Setup, which allows customers to quickly connect smart home devices, such as Echo units, to their home Wi-Fi network by using voice activation through Alexa or scanning a barcode through the Alexa app.
Until the past week or so, many Amazon watchers weren't aware Amazon was close to unveiling new Echo devices and Alexa capabilities.
What is generally clear from the device launches is that Amazon isn’t satisfied simply having an Echo family of different size devices for the home. It wants Echo and Alexa to be in customers’ cars, on their walls in the form of a clock, inside their kitchen appliances — anywhere the user is and might be able to leverage Alexa skills.
Echo Auto, in particular, could unlock a huge market opportunity. Amazon has been working with the auto industry to get Alexa built in to some models of new cars, but this move addresses the exponentially larger number already on the road. The device can sit on a dashboard, plug into a 3.5 mm jack or use Bluetooth to connect with the user’s smartphone for Internet connectivity. Right now, it’s being positioned as a typical Echo — just for use in the car — but it’s not hard to imagine Amazon using the Echo Auto as a gateway to in-car commerce.
But, the new devices announced this week aren’t all part of the traditional Echo family. Amazon also announced Fire TV Recast, which can stream and record TV shows via an antenna and can be controlled by Alexa. As with Echo Auto, this product is a nod to the notion not everyone is going to buy a new Fire TV, but that consumers still might use Alexa in the right format and form factor.
At the same time that Amazon is introducing new devices, it isn’t leaving behind the rest of the Echo family. The updated Echo Plus, Dot and Show are examples of Amazon continuing to refine and improve its technologies The new Show, with a bigger screen and more integrated apps, like Skype, is an especially strong improvement on the original.
Regarding the new Alexa features, as with the new Echo devices, the general aim is to make Alexa an indispensable helper, regardless of location. Many of the features focus on having Alexa do more for its users within the context of the smart home. That is the case with Alexa Guard and Frustration Free Setup, but also with other capabilities. Hunches, a feature which has Alexa learn household routines, can proactively alert a user when a light that is usually off at a certain time is left on.