http://www.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/technology/amazon-s-echo-family-advances-the-smart-home-but-risks-confusion/article/503673

Amazon's Echo family advances the smart home but risks confusion

Posted Sep 28, 2017 by James Walker
Amazon has launched a new line of Alexa smart speakers in a surprise event. The devices include a redesigned "Echo Plus" and the all-new Echo Spot. Analysts have said the devices will help to usher in home automation but the range could cause confusion.
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
Amazon
Adaptive to your home
Amazon's Echo family started as just a single speaker. Since then, the Echo Dot and Show have arrived, giving Amazon more ways to introduce Alexa to consumers. The company's now rolling out the next-generation Echo as well as a premium "Echo Plus." Complementing these devices is the spherical, screen-equipped Echo Spot and a revised Alexa-enabled Fire TV stick.
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
Amazon
According to Amazon, the broader range of options is meant to help the devices blend into your home. The new Echo is shorter and more compact. It's available in several natural finishes, including oak and walnut veneers, sandstone and heather gray, as well as regular colour options.
Second-generation audio tech
Technically, the device comes with upgraded speaker hardware which Amazon claims to offer more bass and crisper vocals than the last-generation Echo. Poor sound quality has previously been one of the Echo's biggest weaknesses so the company has adopted a redesigned approach for the new models. The Plus version comes with 360-degree omni-directional audio and support for Dolby processing, offering "better audio clarity."
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
Amazon
"Three years ago we introduced the first Echo, powered by Alexa, with a goal to fundamentally simplify and improve the way customers interact with their homes," said Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa. "Today, Alexa can make calls, play music in every room, turn on your lights, and even order you a pizza. But it’s still day one, and today we’re making Echo and Alexa even better. The all-new Echo and Echo Plus deliver better sound, all new far-field technology, and new features we think customers will love."
Amazon Echo Spot
Amazon Echo Spot
Amazon
The Echo Spot is meant to be a portable, more convenient version of the smart speaker, ideal for use as a desk clock or nightstand. Whereas the Echo's likely to be a feature in your central living area, Amazon expects you could buy multiple Spots and place them in different rooms. It supports all of Alexa's features to let you control smart home devices from anywhere in your home.
Making the smart home smarter
Alexa's getting smarter too. Amazon announced a new feature that will let you create customisable action chains linked to specific voice commands. Called Routines, you'll be able to join different functions together for a streamlined experience. You could create a "good night" flow that turns off the lights, locks all the doors and closes the curtains, or a "start my day" flow to make a coffee and read out your calendar.
Convenience features like this make the smart home more useful, versatile and appealing. Although Alexa and the Echo are already relatively popular, the overall number of customers opting to bring IoT devices into their house is still small.
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
Amazon
To increase adoption, Amazon and other tech brands have to convince consumers that voice control, Internet-linked appliances and personal assistance aren't just the next big flop. Routines is the kind of feature that could win customers over, letting them sit back and relax while Alexa runs tasks in parallel that formerly required individual human attention.
The launch of the Echo Spot indicates Amazon's now ready to expand Alexa's audience. The lower-priced device could attract people previously unable to afford fully-featured Alexa products.
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
Amazon
However, analysts warned that early diversification of the range could backfire if consumers feel overwhelmed. For newcomers just getting started with connected tech, choosing the Echo to use could become a challenge of its own.
"With the proliferation of Echo devices, there's a chance for confusion in the marketplace: with so many devices, with varying functions and costs, which product is best served to win. That'll be Amazon's big question to solve," said Michael Levine, VP of Marketing at digital experience provider Photon. "Behind the curtain, this emphasizes how important the Home is for intelligent automation. Having multi-step routines, the Alexa platform functionality can become unique and personable for both owners and brands."
Smart home wars are just beginning
Amazon's new Echo range also constitutes a defensive stance against the likes of Apple and Google. It comes mere weeks before Google's expected to unveil its own upgraded smart home products during its October hardware event.
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
Amazon
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Apple's also preparing to launch its Siri-enabled HomePod speaker while Microsoft and Samsung are both exploring smart speaker hardware for their respective digital assistants. The market's heating up and Amazon's dominance is no longer so assured. The surprise launch this week confirms the smart home ecosystem war is still in its early stages.
The new Amazon Echo is available for pre-order today priced at $99.99. The Echo Plus is $149.99 while Echo Spot is $129.99. The Echo and Echo Plus will ship in October with the Echo Spot following in December. Customers who purchase an Echo Plus during the pre-order period will also receive a free set of Philips Hue smart lightbulbs, offering an immediate starting point for a smart home makeover.