Australia to finally get its hands on Amazon Alexa

Years after the assistant took up residency in homes overseas, Amazon has finally introduced Alexa and its Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot offerings in Australia.

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Online retail king Amazon has announced that the Alexa-powered Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus devices are coming to Australia.

Alexa, an "intelligent" personal assistant that makes use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, will feature a new voice for the Australia and New Zealand edition, as well as local knowledge and skills built by Australian developers.

Cloud-powered Alexa is designed to be always on and woken with a voice command. Alexa can perform web searches, create calendar events, and play music, among other things.

"Tens of millions of customers are already using Alexa, and today we're excited to bring her to Australia with a localised experience designed for our Australian customers," Amazon Devices & Services senior vice president Dave Limp said in a statement.

Devices will begin shipping in early February, however Amazon is accepting pre-orders from Thursday. The company is offering discounted pricing to boost the take-up. Initially, the Echo Dot is priced at AU$49, Echo at AU$119, and the Echo Plus at AU$199.

The devices will ship from Amazon, but they will also be available at JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks, Telstra, and Myer next month.

After being given access to the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Alexa Voice Service (AVS) in December, developers from local organisations have launched their respective offerings in line with Thursday's announcement from Amazon.

Australian real estate giant REA Group launched a voice-powered property news report for Alexa, while budget mobile operator Amaysim will allow customers to perform tasks such as check their account balance and top-up their data via Alexa.

Similarly, online services marketplace Airtasker and tradesman-hiring platform Hipages have both launched Alexa skills.

"It's still early days for having conversations with your technology, but we're continuing to discover new ways to adapt and integrate that into our daily lives," REA Group chief inventor Nigel Dalton said.

"One day, the Alexa will be consulted as if she were just another family member at the dinner table -- in the same way forward-thinking companies are starting to add AI company directors. Chances are in five years' time, she could be the smartest 'person' in the room"

See also: The future of digital will be human-centric and voice will reign supreme

Amazon.com.au finally launched in December, ending months of speculation.

The launch of Amazon down under was expected to shake up the retail space in Australia, despite many organisations having years to prepare for such a company to enter the local market.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims offered his support for the online retail giant coming to Australia, noting that the launch would be good for consumers.

"It is hard to see otherwise than that Amazon's entry into Australia will be good for consumers, despite it not being good for incumbent retailers," Sims said, addressing the RBB Economics forum in late November.

The ACCC has even been asked to "act against Amazon's business model" by some of Australia's retail incumbents, he added.

According to Sims, though, the regulator encourages "vigorous competition on its merits -- and this will see many firms fail".

Amazon Prime Video and Twitch Prime became available to Australians alongside the online marketplace. Amazon Web Services launched an Australian region in 2012, and the Australian Kindle Store opened in 2013.

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