Amazon has always been a “go big or go home” kind of operation, and so when it rolled out a dozen or so Alexa-enabled devices – embedded in sound systems, car dashboards and even entry-level microwaves – during its big device event last fall, it was notable if not exactly shocking. The message from the mass release was clear: Alexa’s next destination will be everywhere and anywhere consumers might be.
“We want customers to be able to use Alexa wherever they are. There are now tens of thousands of developers across more than 150 countries building new devices using the Alexa Voice Service, and the number of Alexa-enabled devices has more than tripled in the past year,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted in July shortly before the big wave of Amazon devices broke on the shore.
Some of the items generated a lot of buzz, while others – the wall clock and the microwave, specifically – generated some light mocking when neither worked quite as advertised.
Most of what was released was well-received (though much of the "new" lineup was actually an upgrade of a previous speaker device, or an add-on enhancement dependent on already owning an Alexa device). But how have they done in the year since that release?
That question can be hard to answer directly, as Amazon hasn’t released specific sales figures on individual devices. But ancillary data releases paint a picture of strong sales. According to Canalys, Amazon shipped 6.6 million smart speakers during Q2, the most of any device maker in that period and a 61 percent year-on-year increase.
The only firm that grew faster during that period was Baidu, which saw a 3,700 percent spike, entirely deriving from its dominance in China. Amazon controls about 25 percent of the global smart speaker market.
According to Amazon’s internal figures, it sold 175 million devices overall on Prime Day, with the Echo Dot, its entry-level smart speaker, among its top sellers. The newest Echo Dot made its debut at last year’s event.
The outlier device from last year’s roster of introduced items is the Amazon Echo Auto device, which has since been made available to consumers on an invite-only basis. An Amazon representative told GeekWire that there is no official timeline for wide release. The spokesperson noted that the car is an acoustically challenging outlet for voice control acoustically, so the team is taking its time to get it right. Thus far, according to some reviews, efforts have been far from perfect.
“It won’t take long for the Echo Auto’s biggest issue to become apparent: It’s basically superfluous,” one reviewer said. “Since you need to have a phone with you for it to work, it basically acts as a middle-device. It doesn’t do anything you can’t do with your phone, and it doesn’t really make voice interactions any easier.”
The demand for the device has been reasonably healthy, however, and Amazon’s spokesperson confirmed that any customer who requests an invitation for Alexa Auto will receive one.
The global smart speaker market was worth around $4.3 billion in 2017, according to Allied Research Partners. But by 2027, Research Nester estimates that number will have swollen to $34.4 billion. Given the amounts of money on the table, Amazon’s aggressive push to remain the leading player in the expanding and increasingly competitive market is understandable.
And rollouts have continued: Earlier this month, Amazon unveiled a number of new Fire TV devices, including a smart soundbar, a second-generation Fire TV Cube and more. But the big devices push is forecast for tomorrow (Sept. 25), when Amazon has scheduled a media event.
The specific subject of the event remains unknown: True to form, Amazon hasn’t disclosed much in the way of details. Fall product releases by major tech players have become an expected occurrence in setting the stage for the holiday shopping season. Apple’s iPhone event led off in September, Microsoft will host their event next week and Google’s is queued up for mid-October.
Though Amazon’s device events are a newer phenomenon than those of their counterparts – and a somewhat less elaborate affair – the wide expectation is that Alexa will again play a starring role in a mass hardware release. Whether it will be the dozen-plus items smorgasbord offered in 2018 remains to be seen.
One widely anticipated release will be a set of fitness tracking earbuds speculated to be Amazon’s debut into the health device race. The earbuds, reportedly code-named “Puget," will be able to track steps and keep track of running, calories and pace. They will be priced at around $100. Whether they’ll take the stage tomorrow to get their official public announcement by Amazon remains to be seen.
As, of course, does the answer to the question we are all really wondering about: Will the Alexa Microwave 2.0 be available for holiday 2019?