Last fall, Amazon began branching out from its core Echo speaker experience to start testing other waters for Alexa. in an effort to build a digital army of devices to invade the home. This year, though, marked an "Echosplosion." To say that Amazon wants Alexa everywhere seems like an understatement, as the company is pursuing unique categories -- or at least those that have seen little advancement -- to complement the agent. Amazon's new smart products can be thought of in four major (mostly exclusive) concentric rings of expanding influence.
Core Echo devices
If Amazon were Apple or Microsoft's Surface group, 90 percent of the attention of its product launch would be focused on the core Echo lineup that is Alexa's engine. Indeed, Amazon addressed both ends of its smart speaker spectrum with the entry-level Echo Dot, which saw an audio improvement and the more substantially redesigned Echo Show, its smart display flagship that now has a larger, more tablet-like facade but retains the price range of its 7-inch predecessor that had seen its price roughly halved leading up to the introduction of the new 10-inch model.
The original Echo wasn't designed to impress audiophiles, who would be even less impressed with the Echo Dot. But consumers have room for only so many speakers in their homes or -- in the case of larger homes -- so many multiroom systems. Sonos clearly saw where the puck was drifting, as it began embracing voice agents last year. And with the launch of higher-end rivals such as Apple"s HomePod, Amazon clearly understands that it must raise both the breadth and depth of the Echo line's audio capabilities.
At its event, Amazon continued the general audio improvements in products such as the Echo Dot and Echo Show. But it has attacked a broader audio opportunity the Echo Sub and Echo Link available with an optional integrated Amp. Both are far beyond the price of the Chromecast Audio adapter from Google, although Amazon's new Echo Input is a more direct competitor for that. (Curiously, while Apple has no direct competitor at this point to those products even as it tries to give AirPlay another whirl, it was ahead of both competitors with AirPort Express, a mini version of its router that could pump tunes to any speaker with audio in via AirPlay.)
Amazon calls these products "Echo Companions." They also include the Echo Connect, the adapter that lets landline phones make calls via Alexa, which serves as a reminder that not every line expansion that Amazon has added to the lineup has been a game-changer.
One of the broader diversions from Alexa's smart speaker core was Amazon's new microwave oven. It is one of the few Amazon-produced products that does not bear the Echo name but rather is branded as being part of AmazonBasics, the company's immensely successful private-label brand for a far broader host of products. The microwave represents an accelerated expansion from Alexa's core of entertainment and information to more specific home utility.
The AmazonBasics microwave also serves as a reminder of Amazon's power as a retailer, and that is the strongest element at play in terms of some of the more off-the-wall (or on-the-wall in the case of the Alexa-related clock) ideas Amazon has cooked up. In addition to the high-concept wall clock, it includes the Echo Auto, a small slab that competes with the Alexa-enabled Roav Viva car lighter device by fast-growing accessory maker Anker.
Also: Top 5: Ways Alexa can help you get work done TechRepublic
There's merit to having Alexa in the car. However, Amazon has been able to experiment with more speculative products such as the Echo Look, Echo Connect, Echo Buttons, and the AmazonDash Wand in part because -- of all its major big consumer tech rivals -- it is in the best position to sell them to consumers. Indeed, hardly a day goes by without some Alexa-enabled product being featured among Amazon's daily deals; that makes for a good deal for Amazon.
For Apple, hardware is the business. For Microsoft, hardware is a productivity component. For Google, it's a vessel for advanced services. Once a lineup of cheap Android tablets, though, Amazon's smart hardware business is an effort to seed Alexa as far and wide as it can stay within earshot.
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