Amazon kicked off its big media event on Wednesday by introducing new gadgets and features for its popular Alexa voice assistant, including an option to auto delete voice recordings in an apparent attempt to address recent privacy concerns.
The company unveiled at its Seattle headquarters a series of new products coming to its lineup, from an Alexa-infused smart clock and smart oven to high-end speakers, glasses and earbuds. All items are now available for pre-order.
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: Canalys reports Amazon shipped a quarter of these speakers, or an estimated 6.6 million between April and June.
Amazon is working to keep its momentum.
As expected, the company introduced Echo Bods — earbuds with 5 hours of battery life and 20 hours via a rechargeable case. It uses Bose active noise reduction technology, are turned on with a double tap and give users access to Siri or Google Assistant, whichever is native on their smartphone. There’s also a feature that lets users ask, “Where canned tomatoes?” in a Whole Foods location, and the earbuds will respond with what aisle they’re on.
Amazon also unveiled a high-end Echo speaker, called Echo Studio, to compete with some companies such as Sonos that already offer Alexa-compatible premium speakers. It will cost $199.
Amazon 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. 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 that lets you see instructional cooking videos and go through them step by step, while asking 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, and a $250 smart oven that allows users to scan items from the Alexa app or Echo Show to automatically program the smart oven to cook them properly.
$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 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.
Other updates include Alexa’s first celebrity voice (Samuel L. Jackson), coming later this year for $0.99, and a service for parents that approves contacts who kids can talk to via an Echo Dot. The company also 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”.
It’s getting smarter at helping users proactively too, 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 that works with a $14 motion sensor to “human activity,” including footsteps or sounds of breaking glass if there’s an intruder.
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 — such as, “Alexa, heat up one cup of coffee” — when used with an Echo device).