Alexa, What Did Amazon Announce This Week?

I was in Seattle earlier this week for an Amazon event that over the space of an hour covered over 70 new devices, customer features, and developer tools across Alexa, Echo, and Fire TV.  Looking at the announcements overall I thought Amazon was trying to do a few things:

  • Appeal to both early tech adopters and mainstream consumers.
    • The needs of early adopters, who bought into the Alexa ecosystem and the voice-first UI early, are focused more in growing the number of products they own, as well as increasing the number of engagement points they have with them through skills. These are also users who have become highly dependent on Alexa, who now can operate even if the internet is down minimizing any negative feelings or frustration users might feel when they could not operate their smart home without an internet connection.
    • For mainstream consumers, the needs are more centered on ease of use, wide price range and clear value proposition. Frustration Free Setup for both Amazon-branded devices and third-party devices will be a crucial enabler of mainstream adoption. Amazon Smart Plug will be the ambassador of this new easy setup. As Echo devices move more into the mainstream market, it seems that Amazon’s design is becoming more elegant, more about devices blending with the furniture rather than standing out because of the tech inside.
  • Broaden the ecosystem by:
    • Delivering best in class Alexa hardware while lowering the entry barrier for hardware vendors who want to integrate Alexa in-home devices by providing the new Alexa Connect Kit
    • Offering a new developer language Alexa Presentation Language so that developers can deliver an experience that takes advantage of the screen of some devices without sidelining the voice-first UI
    • Providing a more natural way to interact with Alexa’s Skills
    • Introducing Echo Input to add Alexa functionality to ‘dumb’ speakers you might already own
    • Taking advantage of the recent Ring acquisition to already bring to market new devices and services deeply integrated with Alexa

When looking at the hardware that was introduced a few devices stood out for me:

The new Echo Show

As much as I wish Amazon had introduced this new design with the first Echo Show, I strongly believe that bringing to the market a much bigger screen today is safer than it would have been with the first model. I say this, because Amazon learned a lot about a meaningful interaction of visual and voice input and I feel delivering the larger screen experience at first, might have compromised Alexa’s voice interactions.

It also feels like the new Echo Show offers a broader set of visual use cases that bring the screen to life, also thanks to the integrated hub. All delivered without making the Echo Show feel like a tablet on a stand.

Fire TV Recast

Although you might be tempted to see this device riding the cord-cutting trend, it really is not about that, at all. Recast is about reaching out to a segment of users who do not have cable but might have Fire TV already. Giving these users the ability to record live TV and view it on their preferred device, from their TV to an Echo Show, to their smartphone. The lack of monthly subscription and the local storage make Recast quite competitive with other offerings in the market. I would not be surprised to see the popularity of Recast being stronger in Europe than in the US, just because cable TV does not have the same level of penetration.

AmazonBasics Microwave 

One of the devices that was leaked before the event, the AmazonBasics Microwave, ended up being a little different than anticipated. While Alexa’s smarts are integrated into the Microwave, her voice is not and the Microwave must be connected to an Echo Device in order to use Alexa. This little difference really changes the way I think about the role this new device has to play in Alexa’s ecosystem.

Rather than being a way to deliver Alexa to those users who might have not wanted to invest in an Echo, no matter how cheap it was, this Microwave represents a way to learn how well established user interfaces and device interactions can be changed by voice. Even though microwaves got smarter over time, the way we interact with them has not changed a great deal over the years. You open the door, put some food into the device and input some numbers to either selecting a meal setting or a cooking time. Now with Alexa, we can say what we are cooking and Alexa will automatically set up the correct cooking time. Amazon also integrated the Dash functionality to replenish food.

Echo Auto

The most frequent question I got on this device was: why would I use it? This device for your car dashboard allows you to have Alexa in your car thanks to Bluetooth connectivity between your car and your phone. Although Echo Auto can deliver turn by turn navigation through apps such as Waze, Google Maps and Apple Maps, this is not really the reason why you would use it. The why bother really rests on how deep into the Alexa ecosystem you are. Echo Auto is the link between your home and your car. It allows you with a more location-aware Alexa to operate smart home devices or deliver routines. For instance, you might say “Alexa I am around the corner” and Alexa might be able to open your garage door, turn on the porch light and remind you of anything you were supposed to pick from the store. Echo Auto is not about having an assistant in the car, it is about extending your in-home experience with Alexa into the car.

For the moment, Echo Auto is available in the US and by invitation only indicating that Amazon is probably hoping to learn a lot from the initial rollout. Usually, users who are prepared to try devices and experiences so early in the rollout process have a higher degree of tolerance for bugs and kinks something else that I am sure Amazon is hoping to smooth out before general availability.

Echo Wall Clock

I think that Amazon’s choice to give Alexa’s most used skill an actual device is genius. Echo Wall Clock is the least intimidating way to introduce Alexa into a home of those users who are either skeptics or might think of themselves as “scared of technology.”

Alexa Hunches

This is the ability Alexa now has to suggest tasks she can perform. For instance, when you say “Alexa, goodnight” but you forgot to lock your front door she might say “ The door is unlocked, would you like me to lock it for you.” It is interesting to me how good Amazon is in focusing on delivering value without becoming creepy. Alexa could have been programmed to just lock the door for me, but this is likely to scare people off by making me feel less in control. Think for a second how you would feel if Alexa just said “ the door was unlocked and I locked it for you” the result is the same, but this latter example puts Alexa in control in a way that might raise concerns for the user.


There were other devices and features announced at the event, all really underlining how relentless Amazon is in its move to control our home. Putting the new devices aside it is really the AI and ML capabilities Alexa is displaying more and more. This and a reasonably pragmatic approach in rolling out new experiences explain why Amazon remains ahead of the game in the connected home and digital assistant market. The biggest question for Amazon remains how easy it will be to roll out to international markets making its lead an international one rather than a US one alone.



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Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

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