Sep 26, 2019 - Technology

Amazon wants Alexa to leave home

Illustration of an Amazon Alexa peaking out from behind a door

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many of the most important of the dozens of new devices Amazon launched Wednesday have a similar goal: to get people to use Alexa, its voice assistant, outside the house.

Why it matters: Unlike its competitors Apple and Google, Amazon doesn't have its own smartphone platform to use as a home for its voice assistant. As a result, Amazon needs to find other places to put Alexa.

Driving the news: Amazon introduced more than a dozen devices on Wednesday, including $129 Echo Buds, as well as experimental devices like an Alexa-powered ring and glasses.

  • It also includes several new Echo speakers, a cheaper Echo Show smart display, updated Eero routers and Ring cameras.

Between the lines: Amazon has made strong inroads into the home by being early to market with smart speakers, and many of the devices introduced Wednesday were designed to fortify its position there.

  • But mobile is where the company is playing catch-up, having failed spectacularly in its Fire phone bid several years ago.
  • Amazon has an Alexa app for iPhone and Android, but few people think to open an app rather than use the assistant built into their phone.

On the mobile front, Amazon made several moves:

  • Echo Buds gives Amazon a chance to connect people to both their phone and Alexa. The $129 earbuds include Bose noise reduction and up to 5 hours of listening time. (The included case can hold up to 3 additional charges.)
  • Partnership with GM: The carmaker will offer Alexa support in the first half of next year on Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models dating back to 2018.
  • The experimental $130 Echo Loop ring and $180 Echo Frames glasses don't seem like mainstream products today — nor is Amazon pitching them that way, as they are sold by invitation only. But the speaker-and-microphone-equipped wearables do open up some ways for the company to sidestep the phone and get Alexa directly onto users' bodies.

Amazon also staked out new turf on the services front.

  • A new "Certified for Humans" program identifies smart home products from Amazon as well as others that can be set up and connected to Alexa in just a handful of steps.
  • If Amazon can follow through with the promise this could be important in an era where many smart home products still require a genius to install them.
  • Alexa Guard is designed to use the Echo's microphones to help protect a home when its occupants are away, sending an alert if, say, the sound of broken glass or a smoke alarm is detected.
  • Alexa will also be able to pause the family's WiFi on command when connected with a compatible router.

The bottom line: Amazon's in-home lineup has gotten better — and in some cases cheaper. Outside the home, its new moves are innovative, but it's still a smartphone-centered world.

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