The broad range of devices introduced Thursday by Amazon represents the Seattle company’s latest push to make its voice-activated interface an essential tool at the center of modern consumer electronics.
When Amazon first widely released Alexa, a news release touted the voice-activated software’s ability to call up news, weather and music, and to toggle a limited selection of light bulbs.
Three years later, that list looks mighty quaint.
Amazon on Thursday introduced a range of new devices aimed at getting Alexa into cars, home-security systems and audiophiles’ dens.
Combined with new and updated software tools for other companies to link their products with Alexa, the effort represents the Seattle company’s latest push to make its voice-activated interface an essential tool at the center of modern consumer electronics.
The venue for the announcements Thursday was the top floor of Amazon’s Spheres at the company’s downtown headquarters campus. That’s where Dave Limp, a senior vice president who oversees Amazon’s devices teams, pulled out more than a dozen new products, most of which will be available before the end of the year. The presentation was Limp’s second in this format in as many years, a sign of Amazon’s evolution from online retailer to technology giant going toe-to-toe with the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft.
Highlights included Echo Auto, a dash-mounted microphone that links cars to Alexa; refreshed versions of the Echo Plus, Echo Dot and Echo Show; four brand-new gizmos designed to work with speaker systems and cater to music geeks; and even a wall clock and microwave meant as demonstrations of Alexa’s capabilities in unusual places.
“I am shocked at how broad they are going, and how quickly they are going,” said Patrick Moorhead, an independent technology analyst. “It kind of makes it look like Apple and Google are crawling at this point.”
A hallmark of the company’s devices push, analysts say, has been its relatively low prices, a classic Amazon bet that getting more devices into people’s hands now will pay dividends in the strength of the Alexa ecosystem down the line.
The company also extended its efforts to offer its software’s capabilities as building blocks to other companies.
New or updated tool kits were announced for makers of streaming services, smart televisions and home-security systems to link their products to Alexa. Skype, the voice and video chat service owned by Microsoft, will be the first partner to use a new protocol to integrate communications software.
“They’re really building a platform,” said Matt McIlwain, a managing director with Madrona Venture Group, a Seattle investment firm with close ties to Amazon. The lineup introduced Thursday, he said, seemed overwhelming. “It’s a comprehensive display of products. It’s expanding dramatically the footprint of Alexa.”
One relatively new arena for Alexa is home security, partly the product of the company’s acquisition of smart-doorbell maker Ring earlier this year.
Limp on Thursday introduced an indoor and outdoor camera called Stick Up Cam, which can record and beam images to Alexa-enabled devices. A separate service, called Alexa Guard, sets up options for the software to secure the home, including one capable of randomizing the turned-on lighting in a home to make it appear as if someone were inside.
The new capabilities place Alexa – software linked from the beginning to Amazon-controlled microphones– in the custody of a growing pile of data, from a child’s favorite storybook to driving directions from work and control of home-security systems.
Amazon says there are tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices in use, signaling that many people so far have felt comfortable trusting Amazon, and its mostly sterling reputation for retail customer service, with that sensitive data.
But analyst Moorhead said privacy concerns represent a growing risk to Amazon as the company’s data hoard grows, particularly after incidents in the last year in which Alexa beamed a recorded conversation to a contact outside the house without the owner’s knowledge, and others where some devices seemed to spontaneously laugh. Limp, during his time onstage, didn’t discuss the company’s privacy policies or data safeguards.