Amazon’s latest Echo devices assert its smart-home dominance

Amazon has launched a new set of Alexa-enabled devices including revamps of its Echo smart speakers, Echo Buttons and two screen-based Echo devices dubbed Show and Spot.

A second generation of the Echo smart speaker, with a redesigned sound system and better voice recognition, was among the announcements, alongside a new Echo Plus which automatically discovers and connects with smart light bulbs and other products.

An alarm-clock-inspired Echo Spot, Bluetooth-connected Echo Buttons and the video-screen-based Echo Show were also confirmed for the UK, alongside a new HDR and 4K-enabled Fire TV.

The new Echo Plus (above), now available to pre-order in the UK, has a dedicated woofer and tweeter for the first time to improve the audio output of the device.

It also contains a built-in ‘smart home hub’ which automatically links devices it detects and has been developed to streamline this process, Amazon said.

Unlike the original Echo, consumers will not need to use Alexa apps or Skills to connect with smart light bulbs and other appliances, with the device automatically discovering devices when turned on.

As a result, users only need to vocally confirm to Alexa if they want to connect devices with the Echo.

The Echo also comes in a smaller form (above) and has improved far-field voice recognition. It will be sold in a range of six different finishes for the first time.

Technology expert Stuart Miles said the wide range of new products powered by virtual assistant Alexa had left the company on the verge of dominating the smart home market, with Google and Apple struggling to compete.

“Amazon’s Alexa event in Seattle shows that the company is taking its huge lead in the smart home speaker market and pushing on even harder to completely break away from the competition,” he said.

“While Apple and Google are still stumbling with the launch of Google Home and Apple HomePod respectively, Amazon’s release of numerous products shows that it is trying to make sure that Alexa can be everywhere in your home.”

But Miles did acknowledge that the sheer range of Echo-enabled devices now available could confuse customers.

Amazon’s Dave Limp said in the three years since the company launched the Echo and Alexa in the US, the firm said it had learned “voice and the ambient voice experience in the home is going to be ubiquitous”.

Also among the announcements were Echo Buttons (pictured), small buttons that connect to an Echo via Bluetooth and can be used as gameshow-style buzzers for quiz games.

Limp said he hoped the accessory would help “bring back games night” for families.

A new version of the Fire TV streaming box was also announced, which will come with high dynamic range (HDR) and 4K support built in.

The technologies enable higher quality video playback.

Echo Show

Echo Show, the first Echo device to include a screen, was also confirmed for UK release. Featuring seven-inch display, it can be used to show weather and news info, as well as for video playback. The device went on sale in the US earlier this year.

A further new Echo product, the Echo Spot (below), was also revealed. The small device has a 2.5-inch circular screen and has been designed to replace traditional alarm clocks but also has video calling capabilities. It will be released in the UK early next year.

Meanwhile Amazon has also announced a deal with BMW to place Alexa in the firm's cars, extending its reach beyond the home.

Alexa-powered visual cards will appear on in-car displays in BMW and some Mini vehicles from the middle of 2018, the two firms said.

BMW's Dieter May said: "By making this step and integrating Alexa into our models from 2018, BMW and MINI will form a more intrinsic part of our customers' digital lifestyles.

"Voice control first featured in BMW Group cars many years ago, and we are now enhancing its functionality by adding a digital ecosystem which will open up all sorts of new possibilities that customers can access quickly, easily and safely from their car."

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