Earlier this week we reported on Amazon adding its Alexa voice assistant to its flagship music app. That was just the teaser though: yesterday the company unveiled a swathe of new Echo speakers and devices, while also signifying its grand ambitions for Alexa more generally.
The key points: the basic Echo speaker has been reworked with better audio and voice-recognition tech; a choice of fabric, metal and wood covers; and a price of just $99 – a third of Apple’s upcoming HomePod.
There’s also a new Echo Plus which costs $149, and also acts as a smart-home hub; and a $130 Echo Spot that’s like a little alarm clock with a touchscreen.
Widening out, Amazon also announced a partnership with BMW to install Alexa in some of its cars from mid-2018 onwards, complete with Echo-style ‘far-field’ microphones around the car to ensure the whole family can shout at Alexa.
But if you remember one thing from this week’s flurry of announcements, make it this: Amazon now has more than 5,000 staff working on Echo and Alexa, up from over 1,000 as recently as May 2016. CNBC notes that another 1,500 job openings relating to Echo and Alexa on Amazon’s recruitment website.
The company really is doubling down on its early-mover advantage in smart speakers and voice assistants, as the competitive threat from Apple and Google grows.
Music may not be THE sole focus for Echo speakers in the same way it was for Apple’s iPod back in the day, but the importance of music as a prime reason people buy an Echo shouldn’t be underestimated.
That’s fuelling Amazon’s exploration of new voice-based methods of controlling and interacting with music, which in turn is sparking teams within labels to think more about how they can make the most of this new wave of devices and interaction with music.