Amazon Expands Alexa Voice Capabilities, Alexa Echo Devices and Wants to Ride Along in Our Cars

September 21 2018, 02:00
With Amazon now behaving like a powerful consumer electronics organization with the capabilities and resources to disrupt the markets it wants to enter at any time, the company announced a completely new range of Alexa-enabled Echo devices designed to make it even easier to add Alexa to more places in throughout the home, including hi-fi integration. And now, Amazon also wants us to bring Alexa on the road with Echo Auto, proposing a top-of-dash device. The new Echo designs and products also improve the sound quality significantly.
 
Amazon Introduces the all-new Echo Plus

Amazon introduced a new line-up of Echo devices, Echo companion devices, and Amazon smart home devices, making it even easier to bring the features of Alexa voice recognition to any room and now, also to the car. Leading the new Amazon Echo range is the all-new Echo Dot, replacing the best-selling device, which many companies were buying in large quantities and integrating in their own wall-plate, ceiling speaker, and and even their own smart speaker solutions, given that the cost of the parts was much larger the actual selling price from Amazon. Now, Amazon introduced a better-sounding and round-angled version (making it much more difficult for integration in any wall- or ceiling-plate), implementing a new speaker for louder and crisper sound, and an updated fabric design. The new Echo Dot is available in Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone fabrics, it plays music louder and is now able to control more compatible smart home devices. Price is still only $49.99.
 

With the new Echo Dot now turned into a squashed sphere, instead of a cylinder, Amazon also updated the flagship Echo Plus, with a new more powerful and better sounding smart speaker. The all-new Echo Plus now improves smart home integration with a built-in Zigbee hub, plus an upgraded speaker array and a new design, and still only $149.99.
 

And because it could, Amazon also updated the Echo Show, the alarm-clock design with a screen and speaker that the company introduced a year ago. Even though the market didn't yet fully understand the concept, Amazon introduced a new design for the Echo Show, again with more round corners, upgraded speaker, a new 10-inch HD display, and a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, still selling for $229.99.

A completely new product, the new Echo Auto was designed to bring Alexa directly to the car. Still an experimental product, the Echo Auto will certainly cause a stir in the automotive industry, increasingly facing the reality that car owners in the future will stay away from the useless and incredibly expensive infotainment options that car brands always want to sell with new models, simply offering a basic display and connectivity for bring-in-your-own technology.
 

The Echo Auto features an eight-microphone array designed for in-car acoustics and speech recognition technology, and lets Alexa hear voice commands over music, A/C, and road noise. The device is simply powered by the car's 12V power outlet or a USB port, and connects to any stereo system through a 3.5 mm audio jack or Bluetooth connection. It connects to Alexa through the Alexa app on the user's smartphone.

But that's not all. With the new Echo updates there are also more new "Echo companion" devices, to complement the world of Alexa-enabled homes, reinforcing even more the ecosystem. Now there is a new Echo Wall Clock, to connect any other Echo device to a visual display (a 60 LED ring and visual animations) including timers, alarms and reminders. The 10-inch battery powered clock connects to any Echo via Bluetooth, automatically syncs to the correct time, and is a perfect companion for the kitchen, family room, or home office, selling for $29.99. 
 

There's also the "companion" Echo Input, which enables users of the previous Echo Dot to now adopt even less expensive solutions, and add Alexa to any existing speaker. Just 12.5mm tall, the Echo Input connects to any speaker through a 3.5mm audio cable or Bluetooth, and features a four-microphone array for far-field Alexa interaction. When connected to an Echo Input, any speaker can be added to a new or existing multi-room music group. Available in black and white, it sells for only $34.99. 
 
Amazon Echo Link

And for connecting with existing audio systems, Amazon also launched the Echo Link (amazon.com/echolink), a simple streaming connection for home stereo systems, selling for $199.99, and the Echo Link Amp (amazon.com/echolinkamp), which adds a 60 W, two-channel amplifier to stream high-fidelity music to active or passive speakers for $299.99. Both the Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are designed to look like audio components, using a volume knob for granular control, an Ethernet port for connectivity, and support for multi-room music through Alexa. The Echo Link includes analog, optical, coax, headphone 3.5 mm, and subwoofer line-outs; and analog, optical, and coax line-ins. The Echo Link Amp has left-right speaker binding post outputs to support wiring directly to passive and non-powered speakers. Both Echo Link and Echo Link Amp can be controlled through the Alexa app or another Echo device in the home.
 
Amazon Echo Link Amp

And for those users of the Amazon (standard) Echo or the new Echo Plus that would be considering buying any of the many alternative speakers that are Alexa-enabled because they sound much better with music, Amazon also launched the new Echo Sub (amazon.com/echosub). This wireless Echo subwoofer can create a 1.1 or 2.1 pairing for stereo sound and features an equalizer to adjust the bass, mid-range, and treble of the pairing simply by using voice. Place it anywhere, and our existing Echo devices with play music with deep, rich bass, and it costs only $129.99! There's a smart move from Amazon.
 

Also focusing on the smart home, and reinforcing the news that Amazon is now pushing the Zigbee standard, the company also announced a series of new smart home devices. Believe it or not, that includes the AmazonBasics Microwave, a compact countertop microwave that connects to existing Echo devices to "make cooking easier" for $59.99. There's also the new Amazon Smart Plug, to control compatible lights, fans, coffee makers, and more for $24.99 (this one will not make many friends among all the manufacturers that have spent the last two years designing their own products for smart home integration...).

“We want you to have access to Alexa everywhere — in your kitchen, in your living room, in your office, and now in your car or truck,” says Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa. “Today, we’re excited to expand the number of ways that customers can add Alexa to their homes and their vehicles, so they can use Alexa to make their lives more convenient and easy—whether it’s asking for the traffic on your drive home, checking your email in the morning, or simply saying ‘Alexa, good night’ to turn off your lights and lock your door.”

More Details
Looking in more detail at the one model that will be the focus for everyone in the audio industry - the new flagship Echo Plus smart speaker - on the speaker design side of things, the new Echo Plus features a larger 3” neodymium woofer and increased back volume. Now with a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, the new Echo Plus makes setting up compatible smart home devices easy. Just say, “Alexa, discover my devices,” and Echo Plus will automatically discover and set up compatible lights, locks, sensors, plugs, switches, and more without the need for additional hubs or apps. Echo Plus now includes an embedded temperature sensor, so users can set temperature-based routines using other smart home devices. For example, when the living room reaches 80 degrees, Alexa can send a notification to our phone and turn on a connected fan.
 

There's also a simple setup for Wi-Fi, automatically connecting compatible smart devices to the home network and Alexa in a few easy steps. The smart device will recognize and connect the other devices in our Wi-Fi network using a Wi-Fi password that we have saved in our Wi-Fi Locker. Wi-Fi simple setup is available with new Echo devices, the new Amazon Smart Plug, and the AmazonBasics Microwave.

Overall, with these announcements, Amazon is also expanding the capabilities for its Alexa personal digital assistant, introducing new location-based "routines," more music interactions, better Smart Home and Home Monitoring integration, Alexa Calling (with Skype voice and video integration!), productivity features like email management, step-by-step cooking, and more. All the new Alexa features will begin rolling out to select new and existing Echo devices in the coming months.

On the entertainment side, Alexa will gain new capabilities like left-right stereo pairing, TIDAL integration, Amazon Music New Release Notifications, and when there’s an Internet outage, or the user is in an area with unreliable Internet connection, Local Voice Control allows users to still use voice to control connected devices.
 
““The Alexa service is always getting smarter, whether you’re using the Echo you bought three years ago or an Echo Show you buy tomorrow. We have thousands of engineers and scientists inventing on behalf of customers, and today we’re excited to introduce even more features to help make customers’ lives simpler, safer, and more convenient,” says Taylor. “Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive — all just by asking Alexa.”

“Over the past year we’ve made incredible scientific advances in Alexa’s Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). We have applied deep neural networks to advance Alexa's ability to detect challenging acoustic phenomena such as whispered speech and anomalous events like glass breaking; made breakthroughs in combining transfer learning and deep learning to teach Alexa new languages and capabilities faster; improved contextual understanding and added memory to help customers discover skills and ask follow-up questions more naturally; and used active learning and unsupervised learning to improve foundational wake word detection, speech recognition, and natural language understanding,” adds Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist, Amazon Alexa. “We’ve only scratched the surface of A.I.-powered inventions and we’ll continue to invent ways to make Alexa more useful for our customers.”

Most of the new products, like the new Echo Dot, Echo Plus, and Echo Sub will start shipping in October 2018. Echo Auto is available by invitation and will start shipping "later in 2018". Other products will be available later in 2018 or early 2019, like the Echo Link audio components. Amazon is taking pre-orders now, obviously.
www.amazon.com
related items