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Amazon refreshes Echo lineup with new custom chip

The updated smart speaker lineup also features a sleek new design and new capabilities for kids. Meanwhile, the new Echo Show 10 features a screen that follows you as you move throughout a room.

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Amazon on Thursday unveiled a refreshed lineup of Amazon Echo smart speakers, featuring a new, custom chip that will help the AI-powered assistant Alexa respond to commands more quickly. The new devices also include a new design and new features for kids.  Amazon also unveiled the Echo Show 10, a smart speaker with a screen that can follow you as you move throughout a room.  

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"In processing, milliseconds matter," Miriam Daniel, VP of Amazon Echo, said during a virtual event hosted by Amazon's Devices and Services team. 

"Imagine asking Alexa to turn on the light, and there's a slight delay," she explained. "Our team worked really hard to shave off hundreds of milliseconds" in Alexa's response time. 

The new devices include a new  AZ1 neural edge processor -- a new silicon module purpose-built to run machine learning algorithms on the edge. It works with new neural speech recognition models that run on the AZ1. 

"Together, they make all commands faster on the new Echo," Daniel said. 

See it now: Echo Echo Dot | Echo Dot with Clock | Echo Show 10

The new devices have been redesigned with a spherical shape and a fabric cover, and they come in three colors. Like the Echo Studio, the new devices automatically adapt to the acoustics of a room. 

They also include a built-in smart home hub and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) support, and it also serves as an Amazon Sidewalk Bridge. Sidewalk is a low-bandwidth network that uses BLE and the free 900 MHz spectrum to control devices. The protocol is part of Amazon's effort to spur the development of low-cost IoT devices that don't rely on a cellular connection. As a Sidewalk Bridge, the new Echo devices extend the range of your connected Sidewalk devices.

Amazon has also updated the Echo Dot Kids Edition, with new designs and a new educational feature called Reading Sidekick. The company is also introducing Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids, so Alexa can recognize when she's interacting with a child and switch to kid mode. In that mode, the AI assistant will offer kid-friendly responses, games, and more.   

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As for the Amazon Echo Show 10, the latest version of the smart display features what Amazon calls "intelligent movement." The screen can turn to face the user and follow the user as they're engaging with the device while moving throughout a room.  Amazon also unveiled the Echo Show 10, a smart speaker with a screen that can follow you as you move throughout a room.  

"One of the things we learned is that our screens were stationary but our customers aren't," Dave Limp, Amazon Devices & Services SVP, said during Thursday's event. "For example, when you're cooking, you're likely going between different places in your kitchen and may need to be able to see the Echo Show screen to follow the recipe."

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The Echo Show 10 uses a combination of audio beamforming technology and computer vision to follow users. All processing happens locally on the device's neural processors, Amazon says. While you're talking to the device, it uses sound localization and computer vision models to triangulate in and turn the screen directly to face you. Rather than identifying a specific person, it looks for a human shape. 

Amazon has also updated the smart display -- the fastest-growing Echo device in Amazon's portfolio -- for better video calling. On a call, the screen can move with you, while the camera digitally pans and zooms to keep people on the call centered in the frame. 

amazonechoshow.jpg

There are also new features like Group Calling, as well as new visual effects. In addition to supporting Skype and support for Zoom coming this fall, the devices are getting support for Amazon Chime.  Amazon also unveiled the Echo Show 10, a smart speaker with a screen that can follow you as you move throughout a room.  

For an added sense of privacy, Amazon added a camera shutter to the Echo Show 10. Customers can turn the motion capabilities off by sliding the camera shutter closed, adjusting the settings on the device or in the Alexa app, or by saying, "Alexa, turn off motion."

Amazon is also touting the Echo Show 10 as a security device, which can serve as a remote camera to check in what's going on in different parts of your house. Users can view a live feed from another Echo Show or the Alexa app, and they can remotely rotate the screen to take a look around the room. With Alexa Guard in Away Mode, customers can also get an alert if the camera detects somebody in the house while they're not home. 

Launched six years ago, Amazon's Echo devices gave it an early foothold in the smart speaker market and helped establish the company's dominance in voice-based interactions. The smart speaker business continues to be fruitful for Amazon, though its rate of growth is slowing. Back in May, the firm Strategy Analytics reported that Q1 global shipments of smart speakers surpassed 28 million, up just 8.2 percent over the year prior -- the lowest year-over-year growth Strategy Analytics had recorded for this device segment. Amazon once again sold the most smart speakers in the quarter, though competitors like Google and Baidu are taking a significant portion of the market as well.

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As the smart speaker market grows more competitive, Amazon can look to its other devices to capture a greater share of the overall smart home market -- and to capture consumer attention outside of the home. It's also working with partners and developers to build an ecosystem of Alexa-compatible devices. There are now more than 140,000 products that work with Alexa, Amazon said Thursday, including smart speakers, smart TVs, smart thermostats and light switches, headphones, and PCs. Customers have set up more than 100 million of those devices. 

To grow the Alexa ecosystem, Amazon in the past year has cultivated new partnerships with major brands like AT&T and Tile, introduced several new, sophisticated developer tools, and has tapped new potential markets like property management

The new Echo ($99.99) and Echo Dot ($49.99) will be available in Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue. The new Echo Dot with clock ($59.99) will be available in Glacier White and Twilight Blue. The Echo Dot Kids Edition ($59.99) will be available in Panda and Tiger animal designs. Pre-order starts today, with devices shipping later this year.

The new Echo Show 10 ($249.99) will be available in Charcoal and Glacier White and will start shipping in time for the holidays. 

In other device and services news, Amazon announced: 

  • The eero Pro 6 and eero 6, all-new mesh wifi systems that feature Wi-Fi 6 
  • Care Hub, a new Alexa feature designed to help you care for aging family members from a distance 
  • Proactive Hunches, a new Alexa capability that allows the AI assistant to proactively act on "hunches" to take steps such as automatically adjusting the thermostat. 
  • Luna, a new cloud gaming service designed for playing games with devices you already own.