Amazon made an avalanche of announcements today during the 2019 Devices Event held at its Seattle headquarters, including countless new features for Alexa and more than a dozen new hardware devices spanning from Alexa-enabled wearables to a smart convection oven.
Here’s a breakdown of everything that happened:
Tons of New Alexa Features and Capabilities
Amazon’s primary concern when discussing Alexa was to eliminate privacy concerns and this included various reminders about steps the company has already taken along with some new features and options:
- Alexa will soon receive a “home mode” that users can set when they are home to disable the recording of audio or video.
- If Alexa does something weird, later this year you’ll be able to ask the assistant to explain itself. “Alexa, why did you do that?”
- Similarly, the assistant will support the utterance: “Alexa, tell me what you heard.”
- Amazon announced a new opt-in that will enable users to have their voice recordings automatically deleted after certain lengths of time.
The company has also attempted to make Alexa sound more human, aiming for more of a natural cadence instead of the robotic voice currently used. This update launches today, while future changes will bring more “emotive and expressive” capabilities such as a newscaster voice when reading the news. At least one use case for this improved “conversational” tone is that Alexa can be integrated into hardware such as Ring doorbells, and it will essentially be able to answer your door for you.
For bi-lingual households, Alexa is gaining support for understanding multiple languages at the same time courtesy of a multi-lingual mode that includes Spanish and English, Canadian French and English, as well as Indian Hindi and English. Amazon discussed a new monetization scheme coming later this year that will allow users to purchase celebrity voices for $0.99 each. For instance, Alexa can mimic the voice of Samuel L. Jackson—swear words and all.
The voice assistant is also being outfitted with frustration detection so it can detect when you’re becoming frustrated with the device. Likewise, Amazon has put more thought into a providing a frustration-free experience. It has announced a “Certified for Humans” program that guarantees certain products are struggle-free, tinker-free and stress-free to set up and use. The company has established a “non-expert” panel to test gadgets such as smart lights and small appliances.
“Alexa Guard”—the feature that listens for broken glass—is being improved in a couple of ways. First, it’s being added to Routines. So for instance when you say “Alexa, I’m off to work,” the assistant will lock your door, turn on your outside lights and so on. Second, it’s capable of detecting human activity. Alexa will listen for sounds such as footsteps, talking etc. and then send you a text alert.
In a similar vein, two new types of “Alexa Hunches” have been announced. Alexa will have Hunches about Routines that you may want to enable based on your daily habits. If you perform a specific action regularly, Alexa will ask if you’d like to create a Routine. Additionally, the assistant will have Hunches about when things need to be replaced such as batteries for your smart locks or ink for your printer.
Amazon announced that Alexa will be available on millions of GM vehicles, including Buick, Chevy, Cadillac and GMC—and not just new models, but many existing vehicles will receive Alexa with an over-the-air update. Amazon’s voice assistant integrates with GM’s own voice experience. Likewise, the company announced version 2.0 of the Alexa Smart Screen Device SDK for hardware manufacturers.
Echo Show users who rely on their device in the kitchen may be happy to learn that they will soon be able to watch Food Network TV shows on the Echo. When they see an appetizing recipe, they can simply ask Alexa to save it. Amazon also announced that subscribers will be able to watch live and on-demand cooking classes from Food Network chefs such as Alton Brown, and Alexa will be able to help with questions about ingredients. Apparently the service has 80,000 recipes.
The Echo Show is also receiving new video call features that support group video or audio chats. So for instance you can perform a video call with several family members, with everyone onscreen in a tiled mosaic.
Other new Alexa features include:
- “Alexa Guest Connect,” which allows guests to connect to an Echo device and access their account.
- Wi-Fi control commands for folks who buy Amazon’s Eero mesh Wi-Fi hardware, such as “Alexa, pause the PlayStation Wi-Fi.”
- FreeTime on Echo Show—a bundle of features largely for kids such as games, photo sharing and sing alongs.
- An Alexa Education Skill API that can connect with school software such as Canvas or Coursera so parents can ask Alexa how their kids are doing in school. “Alexa, how did Sam do on the math test?”
Holy Hardware: More Than a Dozen New Devices
An updated Echo—Similar to the existing Echo Plus without the ZigBee radio. It features better speaker hardware (neodymium drivers) and more fabric color choices (including blue). Pre-orders available today for $99.99.
Echo Dot with Clock—Precisely as described, it’s an Echo Dot with an LED display that is visible from underneath the speaker cloth. Alarms can be delayed with a nine-minute snooze by tapping the top and pre-orders are available today for $59.99. This will be marketed alongside the existing Echo Dot.
Echo Studio—Described as the most innovative speaker Amazon has ever built, Echo Studio is a smart speaker that supports 3D audio and Dolby Atmos and automatically tunes to the sound of the room. It packs three mid-range speakers: left, right, and top, a directional tweeter up front, and a 5.25-inch bass driver on bottom with bass port. Two Echo Studios can be paired with a sub if desired. Pre-orders are open today for $199.99 but there’s no word on when orders will ship.
Echo Show 8—Resembles the Echo Show 5 but has a screen that is more square in shape and that’s bigger at eight inches. It has the better audio than Amazon’s Echo Show 10 and a privacy shutter on the camera. Pricing is set at $129.99, pre-orders are open now and the device is scheduled to ship in time for the holidays.
Echo Glow—Somewhat spherical multicolor Echo that has various light settings and can cycle through colors when being tapped. Pre-orders start today for $29.99 and the Echo Glow is expected to ship for the holidays.
Echo Flex—A compact Echo that can be plugged into a wall outlet. It’s equipped with a tiny speaker optimized for Alexa’s voice, a couple of buttons, an LED status light and a USB port for charging devices. Additionally, the Echo Flex can be paired with a motion sensor and a smart nightlight which are sold separately. The Flex itself is available for pre-order at $24.99 while the accessories will fetch $14.99 each.
Ring Stick Up Cam—Can be set up inside or outside and besides running off a wall outlet, the camera can be powered via battery or a solar accessory. Supports 1080p video, motion detection and night vision. Pre-orders are available today at $99.99.
Ring Indoor Cam—Pitched as Amazon’s cheapest home security camera, the Ring Indoor Cam has a compact design that is meant to be mountable anywhere in your house. The device supports “Home Mode,” which disables recording audio and video when you’re home. Available for pre-order today at $59.99.
Ring Retrofit Alarm Kit—Lets you use Ring with your house’s existing alarm infrastructure. Pricing set at $199.99 and the kit is bundled with Ring Alarm Hub for $375.99.
All new Eero—Amazon’s latest Eero base station supports dual-band radio, adaptive backhaul and enables whole-home mesh Wi-Fi coverage. Can be used in conjunction with Alexa to control Wi-Fi access with voice commands. For example, “Alexa, turn on the guest Wi-Fi. An API is being made available for other router manufacturers to enable this support with their hardware. Units are available today in the US for $99.99 or $249.99 for a three-pack. The device will ship in Europe in early November. Eero bundles have previously sold for $400, so this is a notable discount.
Amazon Sidewalk—A new network protocol that is designed for edge IoT devices. Sidewalk is a low bandwidth network on the 900MHz spectrum that extends distance for controlling low cost smarthome devices—think weather sensors, etc. The signal can be propagated for 500 meters on up to a mile so a few access points can result in a broad coverage area.
Ring Fetch—A new dog tracker that uses Sidewalk and will notify you if your dog leaves a designated area. This device isn’t being sold yet but is expected to arrive next year.
Amazon Smart Oven—Not just an oven, but a combination microwave, convection oven, air fryer and food warmer that can be controlled with Alexa commands. The assistant can be told to cook common foods with dozens of presets and it will even let you know when it’s time to stir the food. Amazon also mentions that you can scan hundreds of packaged food items using an Echo Show and cooking instructions will automatically be loaded onto its smart oven. Pre-orders are available for $249.99.
Echo Buds—Wireless earbuds with Alexa built-in. Designed with armature drivers for crisp vocals and dynamic bass, as well as Bose Active Noise Reduction technology, which can be turned on or off via finger taps. If you tap and hold, you can access your phone’s voice assistant. Battery life is quoted at five hours and up to 20 when recharging off the case. Pre-orders are open today for $129.99 and units will start shipping in October.
Echo Frames—Yep, Alexa-enabled glasses. Available with or without prescription lenses, the device weighs 31 grams and they don’t have a display or camera but they do have an integrated microphone and directional speakers that point the audio at you and not the people around you. The mic can be disabled and there’s a “VIP filter” so only certain notifications are permitted. Introductory pre-order pricing is set at $179.99.
Echo Loop—Yep, an Alexa-enabled titanium ring. Equipped with two microphones that can be activated by a button on the bottom and a tiny haptic engine so you get a little vibration for notifications (and to let you know that you successfully hit the button). Both the Loop and Frames are going to be available in limited quantities. Pre-order pricing for the Loop is set at $129.99.