Updated: September 25, 2019 6:52:02 pm
Over the past two years, Amazon has held a fall event at its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, to reveal what’s new it has to show in hardware. The idea is to create the hype around its products ahead of entering the crucial holiday season. The company held a similar event last year where it unveiled as many as 15 new products, including a redesigned Echo Dot and an Alexa-enabled microwave oven. The event was held in the Amazon Spheres, the three large glass domes at Amazon’s headquarters.
This year, Amazon is holding an event in Seattle on Wednesday, September 25, where it is expected to announce new hardware and services. Amazon has already spent a lot of time showing off new third-party Amazon products at this year’s Internationale Funkausstellung — otherwise known as IFA, Wednesday’s event is most likely focus on the updated Echo hardware and a new truly wireless earbuds with Alexa built-in.
‘High-end Echo speaker expected’
At the event, Amazon VP of device David Limp and team will likely show off a new high-end Echo with a built-in woofer and better sound quality. The tech giant recently announced a new tier for its music subscription service that will offer high quality, lossless audio streams and downloads. It would make sense for Amazon to launch an Echo with more premium sound that can actually compete with the Google Home Max, Sonos One and Apple’s HomePod in the sound department
“Amazon is overdue to create a music-grade version of the Echo that can compete with the Sonos One for high-quality music listening solo or in stereo pairs. They’re also likely to refresh the large Echo speaker, but not the Echo Dot,” said Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett.
‘Echo speaker central to smart home’
For Amazon, the Echo smart speaker is central to the smart home experience. The Echo, which has more than 80,000 skills, support dozens of smart home devices and can be used to shop products on Amazon. According to market research firm Canalys, Amazon’s Echo is the most popular smart speaker in the world, with roughly 25 per cent of the market.
The Echo is so popular that Amazon now sells the smart speaker in various models. The lineup includes the standard Echo, the Echo Dot, the touch-screen enabled Echo Show, a weird looking Echo Spot, the Echo Look, and the Echo Plus. And it’s no surprise to see why Amazon keeps updating its Echo lineup of speakers each year. Last year, Amazon refreshed the Echo Dot, Echo Show and the Echo Show at its September event. This year, Amazon is expected to update the standard Echo and Echo Spot.
Every Amazon Echo speaker is powered by Alexa, a voice assistant that can listen to you and respond with answers to questions in English, Hindi and yes, Hinglish, a hybrid of Hindi and English. Rather than a Google search, you can ask out the word “Alexa” at the beginning of the question on a compatible device to answer all your queries.
‘Amazon faces scrutiny over privacy practices’
But as Alexa-powered Echo speakers surged in popularity, the issue of privacy cast a shadow on the company’s policy to protect user data. Like other big tech firms, including Google and Apple, Amazon too has been accused of hiring workers listening and transcribing commands on an “Alexa” device. In the wake of increasing pressure from privacy regulators, Amazon did give users the option to disable human review of their Alexa recording. Previously, Amazon did not inform users that their audio recordings might be listened to by its workers. Amazon’s latest move shows that major tech companies have come under pressure from regulators to improve transparency and give users more control over the data.
‘Amazon may launch AirPods rival’
Amazon is also expected to release a pair of truly wireless earbuds at the event. The rumoured Alexa-powered wireless earbuds may end up costing $100 and will able to track running distance, calories burned and pace, according to reports. This would be the first time the company will launch Amazon-branded wireless earbuds in the market.
“The virtual assistant is the chance for Amazon to get to the same level of influence as Apple and Google have as smartphone OS makers. If they can get Alexa into wireless headphones, they can get influence at the same level as the smartphone OS maker,” Gillett said.
Many believe Amazon’s wireless earbuds will be the answer to Apple AirPods, the world’s most popular truly wireless earbuds. The $149 AirPods are so popular that you will find them in the coffee shops, airports and in the gym. Amazon needed to be in space to bring Alexa to the ear.
“Amazon’s first wireless earbuds will be a quality “affordable” set of wireless earbuds that can bring Alexa directly into consumers’ daily interactions on their smartphones, rather than just via smart speakers. This is crucial to expand Alexa’s reach in Europe where Google Assistant has been able to land first or follow faster, due to Google’s global experience with search translation and localization,” he explained.
‘No wheeled robot, Kindle readers expected at the event’
The e-commerce giant is also expected to announce new Fire tablets at the September 25 event. Don’t expect Amazon to unveil a wheeled robot, a new smartphone, or new Kindle readers at its fall event, Gillett said.
There are talks of Amazon launching a new service at the event. Gillett believes Amazon will add an Alexa tier to Amazon Prime, but the announcement won’t happen anytime soon. The new tier will enable premium services, like video storage, family services, or food delivery.
(Disclaimer: The author is in Seattle on the invite of Amazon India.)
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