At a major media event on Wednesday, Amazon introduced a wide range of new products and services in its continuing effort to usher its virtual assistant, Alexa, into every corner of the home and, now, on to every part of our body too.
New to its Echo lineup is an Alexa-infused smart clock, smart oven, high-end speakers, earbuds and even glasses. Most of the items are now available for pre-order, though a few, such as the glasses, will be sold on an invite-only basis for now.
The announcements come at a time when the popularity of smart speakers with virtual assistants has ballooned. According to data from tech market researcher Canalys, companies including Amazon, Google, and Baidu shipped 26.1 million smart speakers in the second quarter of this year. Amazon is sitting on top of this market and is working to keep its momentum.
As expected, the company introduced Echo Buds — $130 earbuds with 5 hours of battery life and 20 hours via a rechargeable case. It uses Bose active noise reduction technology, can be turned on with a double tap and gives users access to Siri or Google Assistant, whichever is available on their smartphone. A feature lets users ask questions such as “Where are canned tomatoes?” in a Whole Foods location. The earbuds will respond with the aisle where you can find this product.
But the company didn’t stop with earbuds. In an unexpected move, Amazon showed off Echo Frames, a set of eyeglasses with prescription lenses that features “very discrete directional microphones” that let only users hear Alexa. The glasses weigh about 31 grams — lighter than, say, Google Glass — and users can tap the stem to turn the virtual assistant off.
For the home, Amazon unveiled a high-end Echo speaker, called Echo Studio, that will cost $199 and competes with companies such as Sonos that already offer Alexa-compatible premium speakers. It also showed off the newest member of its Echo Show family: the Echo Show 8, which is slightly smaller in size than the Echo Show 10 and slightly bigger than the Echo Show 5. As with a previous Echo Show, the $130 device features a small physical shutter that you can use to cover the front camera.
Because people primarily put these devices in the kitchen, Amazon will be rolling out a Food Network service for the Echo ShowG that lets you see instructional cooking videos and go through them step by step. You can ask Alexa questions like, “Alexa, how many chicken thighs do I need?” and it will overlay details on the display.
A new $59 Echo smart clock displays the outside temperature and the ability to snooze it by tapping the top. A $250 smart oven allows users to scan items from the Alexa app or Echo Show to automatically program the oven to cook them properly. And a $29 Echo Glow for kids is a smart small smart speaker that, well, glows.
Other new hardware includes the Echo Flex, a tiny $25 speaker the size of a pack of cards that plugs into a wall outlet. It aims to extend Alexa’s capabilities to other rooms in the house, such as the garage.
Alexa is also receiving a few new bells and whistles, including “frustration detection” that can detect when users are starting to lose their nerve with the voice assistant. It will say “I must have misunderstood” before trying to fix what it got wrong. The feature will roll out first to music requests. And for those who are tired of Alexa’s voice, Amazon plans to introduce its first celebrity voice (Samuel L. Jackson) later this year for $0.99.
Crucially, Amazon is now adding an option to auto delete voice recordings in an apparent attempt to address recent privacy concerns. Amazon also announced a service for parents that approves contacts who kids can talk to via an Echo Dot. And Amazon plans to add new controls for third-party routers, so users will be able to say, ” Alexa, turn on the guest WiFI” and “Alexa, pause Ryan’s tablet Wi-Fi”.
The company is also getting smarter at helping users proactively, such as telling you when it’s time to change the battery in a smart lock or the printer is low on ink. A new feature called Alexa Guard can detect “human activity,” including footsteps or sounds of breaking glass if there’s an intruder.
It’s not the first time Amazon has unveiled a dizzying list of new products. Last September, Amazon introduced Alexa-controlled products ranging from the expected — more Echo smart speakers — to the surprising — a $60 AmazonBasics microwave that can warm food via voice commands when used with an Echo device.