Amazon Expands Echo Concept and Enhances Alexa Software

Amazon has announced a new smart home hub device and an improved version of its Alexa AI assistant platform.

Amazon Expands Echo Concept and Enhances Alexa SoftwarePriced at $149.99, the Echo Plus is an expansion of the pioneering Amazon Echo concept. It’s designed to automatically look for compatible smart home devices with the user command, “Alexa, discover my devices”; and compatible GE, Kwikset, and Philips Hue devices will then be connected to the Echo Plus. From there, the user can control these connected devices just by talking to Amazon’s device.

And that device will have smarter software. A new ‘skill’ called Alexa Routines allows users to program multiple functions into a simple voice command; for example, saying, “Alexa, good morning” could prompt the platform to turn on a kitchen light, start making coffee, and recite the latest news report. Alexa also now enables free outbound calls to numbers in the US, Canada, and Mexico, though emergency calls aren’t supported.

The improvements arrive at a time when competition in AI-empowered smart home hub devices is heating up. Apple and Samsung are both working on their own Amazon Echo rivals, and even Facebook is reportedly preparing to get into the market. As such, having the edge in AI sophistication and interoperability with smart home devices could prove key to staying ahead of the competition.

Along with the Echo Plus, Amazon has also announced a redesigned standard Echo device with Dolby sound processing, and devices called Echo Buttons that allow users to play voice-based games such as Trivial Pursuit; these offerings are $99.99 and $19.99, respectively.