AMAZON RELEASES NEW ECHO DEVICES, INTEGRATES NEST AND HONEYWELL: Amazon made several major updates to its Echo connected speaker and smart home hub yesterday. The Echo is quickly becoming one of the most popular smart home products in the US, and recent research from Argus Insights showed that consumers favor the Echo over Apple’s and Google’s platforms for controlling smart home devices. The latest updates should make the Echo brand even more popular and help improve the Alexa voice assistant platform that powers Echo speakers. The new updates include a pair of smart home integrations and two new speaker products.
Amazon announced that it will integrate Echo speakers with Nest and Honeywell smart thermostats with a software update by the end of this month. Amazon just added commands for smart thermostats to Alexa’s voice recognition capabilities last month, and has already integrated the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat. The integration with Nest’s thermostat is particularly notable as the Echo and the Nest thermostat are two of the most popular smart home devices on the market. Enabling the Echo to control Nest thermostats should heighten its appeal for smart home customers.
The first new speaker, the $89 Dot, is a small hockey puck-sized device that connects into any speaker to give it Alexa’s voice recognition capabilities. That means any speaker connected to the Dot can do all the things the Echo speaker can: play music on voice command, deliver news and weather updates, control smart home devices, and order an Uber car.
The second new device, the $129 Tap, is a smaller, portable version of the Echo speaker. The Tap has Alexa’s full set of voice commands, but the device is not voice activated. Users have to manually trigger the voice recognition system by pressing a button on the Tap. Amazon said this change was made to help preserve battery life on the smaller speaker. The Tap also has to be tethered to a smartphone to get a Wi-Fi connection, allowing users to take the Alexa platform with them on the go.
US consumers’ use of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is still lagging behind other voice assistants, including Apple’s Siri, Google’s ‘OK Google’, and Microsoft’s Cortana, according to a recent MindMeld survey. While adoption is low, MindMeld notes that the US consumer use of Alexa has doubled from 2% to 4% in the past year.