In a surprise event yesterday, Amazon announced six new Alexa-powered devices for the home, among them five new Echo speakers and other devices, and a new, less expensive version of Fire TV with 4K support. Additionally, Amazon revealed that BMW will add Alexa support to all of its upcoming vehicles.
“Three years ago we introduced the first Echo, powered by Alexa, with a goal to fundamentally simplify and improve the way customers interact with their homes,” Amazon senior vice president Tom Taylor is credited with saying in a canned statement. “Today, Alexa can make calls, play music in every room, turn on your lights, and even order you a pizza. But it’s still day one, and today we’re making Echo and Alexa even better.”
Amazon may have pioneered the market for what Microsoft calls “ambient devices,” and it’s fair to say that they are still the market leader. But the firm is clearly feeling the heat from competitors such as Google Home and Apple’s upcoming HomePod because each of these announcements can be seen as a reaction to those products and other related competitor initiatives.
Here’s what Amazon announced.
Echo (second generation). The second-generation Echo is smaller, more attractive, and less expensive, at $99.99, than its predecessor (which was $179). Like Google Home, it offers a variety of replaceable shells so you can match your home decor. And in attempt to counter Apple’s HomePod, it offers much-improved speaker technology, plus improved far-field technology so you can wake it more easily from across the room.
Echo Plus. Positioned as a more premium version of Echo, the Echo Plus is larger than the new Echo and it offers unique home control capabilities that allow it to automatically discover and set up compatible lights, locks, plugs, switches, and more without the need for additional hubs or apps. Echo Plus has enhanced 360-degree omnidirectional audio, plus that improved far-field technology. It costs $149.
Echo Spot. A new screen-based Alexa device, the small, round, and cute Echo Spot is designed to fit anywhere in the home, but it’s perhaps uniquely well-suited in the bedroom as an alarm clock. It has a built-in speaker, but you can also use Bluetooth and cable-connected speakers, and it can be used to make hands-free audio and video calls with other Echo device owners. It will cost $129.99 and ships on December 19, which is a rather awkward date for those looking to the holiday gift-giving season. It will be available in black and white versions.
Echo Connect. The Echo Connect is a new Alexa accessory that works as a hands-free speakerphone for your home phone line (landline or VoIP). It will cost just $34.99 and arrives December 13, 2017. But it’s not a standalone device: It requires another Echo device. So maybe the better way to think of this is that it’s a companion for Echo that lets your existing device integrate with your phone.
Echo Buttons. Described as the first of a coming family of “Alexa gadgets,” Echo Buttons are positioned as a group gaming accessory where you can play a coming selection of Echo Button-compatible games Trivial Pursuit, Buzzer Beater Basketball Trivia, and more. They will come in two-packs that cost $19.99, and will arrive “in time for the holidays” in the US, UK, and Germany.
Amazon Fire TV (2017). In what appears to be a replacement for both the traditional Fire TV set-top box and the Fire TV Stick, the new Fire TV delivers 4K/Ultra HD at 60 fps, HDR capabilities, and Dolby Atmos audio. The price is right, too: Where Apple TV 4K will set you back at least $179, the Amazon Fire TV costs just $69.99, and it will ship October 25, 2017. I will be testing this one.
BMW integration. Amazon also revealed this week that BMW will be adding Alexa voice integration to all 2018 model year BMW and MINI vehicles starting in mid-2018, in the US, UK, and Germany. “Ask Alexa in-car to get directions, call a business, play music or Audible content, control your smart home, check the news, and more while you’re on the go,” Amazon notes, “without downloading a separate app.”