Amazon just threw its big Echo event, and while the company announced a massive slate of hardware that touches almost every aspect of our connected lives, the most interesting part was what wasn’t there — new Alexa hardware. Instead (with a few exceptions, which we’ll get into) most of Amazon’s event was focused on either enhancements to existing Echo products, or offering new ways to expand or extend the Echo into new areas or fields.
And that’s largely because, at this point in time, there just aren’t a whole lot more form factors or devices that you can really add Alexa to and still be useful. Or, to put it another way: The era of new Echos is over. But the age of Echo accessories is just taking off.
Amazon already makes an Echo for your living room (the “standard” Echo), a larger Echo to serve as the center of your smart home (the Echo Plus), an Echo for your kitchen (the Echo Show), an Echo for your nightstand (the Echo Spot), an Echo for your TV (the Fire TV Cube), and a smaller Echo that fits in basically any of the areas that don’t already fit in the above categories (the Echo Dot).
Add in the new Echo Input (for adding Alexa to any speakers in your house that don’t already have it), and the Echo Auto (for your car), and Amazon’s domination of your home is complete. Short of an Alexa-equipped couch— which, honestly, I’d put even odds on for next year’s event — it’s hard to see what other form factors or devices Amazon can make for its smart assistant to go in.
And that’s a problem for Amazon, too. Because while it may dominate the entire smart home arena with an Echo to fit every crevice of your abode, there also isn’t the same drive to upgrade the existing hardware. Once you’ve Alexa-ifed your whole home, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to upgrade to the new hardware since each new year’s models are largely just cosmetic updates. Speakers are also not quite like a smartphone or a laptop, as you’re likely only actively using your Echo for a few minutes a day, not several hours.
But with this year’s Echo announcement, Amazon is basically assuming you already have at least an Echo or two. And so, the focus is on what comes next: making that Echo experience better, while at the same time tying you even more closely to the Alexa ecosystem across your digital lives.
Hence, we’ve got products like the Echo Sub, which doesn’t replace your existing Echo or Echo Plus with a more powerful speaker — it pairs with them to make the hardware you already own sound better. There’s the Echo Wall Clock, which syncs up with your Echo over Bluetooth to offer a visual look at your timers. The Echo Link and Echo Link Amp, for letting you connect your whole sound system to Amazon’s Echo-based multi-room audio (instead of a competitor like Sonos). The Echo smart plug, for hooking in basically anything powered by electricity into your Echo-verse. It’s important to note that despite the “Echo” name, none of these products have microphones or Alexa onboard — they’re purely meant to expand your existing hardware.
Then there’s the AmazonBasics Microwave, which also connects over Bluetooth to your Alexa devices to directly control it (it doesn’t have a mic or speakers either, to be clear.) It’s this microwave that indicates the most where the future of the product category is going — not because smart microwaves will suddenly take over the marketplace, but because it’s essentially a proof of concept from Amazon for its Alexa Connect Kit, which “includes a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE module that contains software — written and managed by Amazon — that automatically and securely connects to Amazon-managed cloud services.”
And Amazon is making that kit available to third-party device makers, and you can bet that it’ll be encouraging them to use it. Combine that with the recently announced Alexa Gadgets Toolkits, which will also help device manufacturers make their own Alexa-enabled enabled accessories like the Echo Button or Echo Clock that tie into Alexa hardware, and you can easily imagine how far Alexa-connected devices will link into our homes.
Amazon didn’t need to really announce more kinds of Echo devices because it’s already succeeded — Alexa is everywhere. At this point, no matter where you are in our house (or soon, even your car), Alexa can hear you. And now, Amazon is setting its sights on making sure that the home of the future is full of things that will be able to respond to whatever it is you say.