Amazon’s Echo, the AI-enabled Bluetooth speaker that has been a surprising hardware success, is getting two new siblings, the company announced today.The devices extend the reach of Alexa, the company’s virtual, voice-enabled assistant.
Amazon Tap is a portable, $129.99 version of the Amazon Echo with what Amazon describes as “rich, full-range sound.” Users just tap the microphone button to access Alexa, and if they’re connected to WiFi, it can do anything the Echo can do, from playing music to ordering a pizza.
At just about a pound and with nine hours of playback on battery power, the Tap is more of a direct competitor to the multitude of Bluetooth speakers on the market than to Siri and the iPhone. However, Alexa probably won’t be joining you at the beach; you’ll have to hook the Tap up to a new WiFi network anywhere you go before accessing the cloud-based Alexa services. And without the voice-activation features of the bigger Echo, you will have to walk across the room to interact with the Tap no matter where you are.
The Echo Dot is Amazon’s response to those who want better sound while still getting Alexa’s smarts. Users can plug the $89.99 puck into any speaker system they want and have Alexa stream music through them, along with doing other Alexa tasks. Users can also connect the Dot to speakers over Bluetooth, but latency could be an issue with the low-energy standard.
However, the real power of the Dot is as a supplemental Alexa access point. With a built-in speaker, users can place Dots in various rooms around the house and interact with Alexa wherever they are. Amazon sees the Dot as a companion to the existing Amazon Echo family, and because of that, you’ll need an Amazon Echo or Fire TV to order a Dot.
Additionally, the Dot appears to be very limited.
“When we sell out of Echo Dot devices, they will no longer be available,” an Amazon help page notes. Amazon likely wants to avoid a Fire Phone situation, where the company was left with a huge stock of unsold phones even after slashing prices.
With the Alexa Skills Kit, Alexa Voice Services and now three hardware devices running with Alexa (plus some Fire TVs with a limited version of the AI assistant), Amazon is arguably leading the way to our AI-assisted future.
Sure, Google and Apple may have the more portable AI assistants, but Amazon has the most accessible one. With the ability for outside developers to add to Alexa’s skills and for manufacturers to add her to their devices, the Alexa is poised to continue growing, and may even become a vital part of day-to-day life for many people. Once that happens, Apple and Google will have to fight even harder to break into that space.
The Amazon Tap and Echo Dot ship later this month.
Developing story, more to come.