In some ways, the laundry list of product announcements that Amazon.com (AMZN) made at its latest Echo and Alexa event has a lot in common with the ones that Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been making at its annual AWS re:Invent conference.
In each case, Amazon is showing a willingness to leave virtually no stone unturned as it tries to address a slew of use cases and customer requests for a major platform. From all indications, Amazon doesn't do this with the expectation that every new offering will be a hit -- indeed, some could very well fall flat -- but out of a belief that the whole of what it offers for a platform will be more than the sum of its parts.
At a Seattle event on Wednesday, Amazon took the wraps off more than a dozen new consumer hardware offerings. Notable reveals included:
- The Echo Buds, a $129 pair of Alexa-capable wireless earbuds with Bose noise-reduction tech. In addition to activating Alexa by saying its name, users can activate a phone's primary voice assistant (typically Google Assistant or Siri) by tapping and holding an earbud. While the Buds might have a hard time taking share from Apple's (AAPL) AirPods among iPhone users, given the mindshare that AirPods have built up and Apple's efforts to tightly integrate them with its devices, they could have more success with Android users.
- The Echo Studio, a $199 smart speaker -- it squares off against Apple's HomePod and Alphabet/Google's (GOOGL) Home Max, as well as Sonos' (SONO) hardware -- that's promised to deliver a high-end audio experience. The Studio supports Dolby Atmos audio, and two of them can be paired to deliver surround sound. Sonos' shares closed down 5% Wednesday after Studio was revealed, and dropped another 2.2% in after-hours trading.
- The Echo Frames, a $180 pair of Alexa-capable eyeglasses with built-in speakers that Amazon promises won't be heard by people near a user. The eyeglasses can be paired with an Android phone (iPhones aren't supported for now) to do things such as read notifications, make calls and play music.
- The Echo Loop, a $130 ring with a small, built-in, Alexa speaker. The Loop vibrates when a user gets a smartphone notification, and there's a button for accepting/rejecting calls and accessing a phone's primary voice assistant.
- An Echo Dot smart speaker with a built-in alarm clock. It sells for $59 ($10 more than the standard Echo Dot).
- The Echo Flex, a $25 smart plug with a built-in Alexa speaker and USB charging port. Amazon is creating a programming interface (API) for software developers looking to create smart home devices that work with the Flex.
- A third-gen Echo speaker featuring improved audio quality. Like its predecessor, it retails for $99.
- The Alexa Smart Oven, a $250, Alexa-powered, kitchen appliance that functions as a microwave, air fryer, convection oven and food-warmer
There were also a handful of other products announced. These included the Echo Glow, a $30, Alexa-powered lamp for kids that can change colors with a tap, an 8-inch Echo Show smart display and new hardware from Amazon's Eero mesh Wi-Fi unit and its Ring smart camera/doorbell unit.
Amazon also showed off a slew of Alexa updates. Among them: New privacy controls; support for multiple languages in the same home; the ability to use Alexa to control a home Wi-Fi network and (by detecting the sounds that a person makes) detect when someone is in a house; and a $1-per-month service that lets Alexa speak with celebrity voices (Samuel L. Jackson is the first celebrity supported).
Given Amazon's history of running hardware promotions, chances are that many of the devices announced on Wednesday will be available during the holiday season at discounts to their list prices. Whether it's selling smart speakers, tablets or streaming sticks, Amazon has often been comfortable selling its own consumer hardware at or near cost, with the goal of keeping consumers hooked on its e-commerce and digital content services.
And of course, Amazon isn't simply relying on its own hardware to help achieve these goals. The company has built out a giant ecosystem of Alexa-powered consumer devices to extend its reach.
Apple and Google's ability to integrate their respective voice assistants with the world's dominant mobile operating systems remains a big competitive strength for them, both in terms of driving usage of their voice assistants and generating voice query data that can be leveraged to improve their assistants. And in Google's case, the company can also lean on its historical AI/machine learning strengths, its ability to integrate Google Assistant with Google Search and other services; and its own efforts to build a large hardware ecosystem for its voice assistant.
But with over 100 million Alexa-capable devices having been sold as of January, and untold numbers of smart home/IoT devices that can be controlled by Alexa also having shipped in recent years, Amazon's voice assistant is doing alright for itself.
And as Amazon, which last November claimed to have more than 10,000 Alexa and Echo-related employees, tries to extend Alexa's reach in the fields of smart home hardware and wearables, the R&D resources that it's throwing into the fight look just as impressive as the resources that it's providing to AWS to help extend its reach.
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