One year ago, in a splashy press event at its Seattle headquarters, Amazon unveiled more than a dozen new devices, putting Alexa into everything from microwaves to sound systems to car dashboards. It was an unprecedented wave of new products, designed to push the company’s voice assistant into more corners of the home and, increasingly, out into the rest of the world.
With the company expected to hold a new event later this week, it’s the right time to ask: what happened to all that stuff from last year?
At the time, it seemed like a lot to take on, and some of the products had hiccups out of the gate. Amazon temporarily pulled the Echo Wall Clock, and the Alexa microwave received mixed reviews — promptly getting exiled from GeekWire’s own test kitchen.
But in the year since the event, Amazon has followed through and released all but one of the devices widely to the public. The only outlier in the bunch is Echo Auto, a $50 device that connects to the Alexa smartphone app and plays through car speakers.
The device is available, but it is listed as “available exclusively by invitation” on Amazon’s website, and it is selling for half off the original price. There is a button on the side of the device’s Amazon page that lets customers request an invitation.
An Amazon spokesperson wouldn’t say when the device will be more widely available. The car is a challenging outlet for voice control acoustically, so the team is taking its time to get it right, the spokesperson said. However, the company vows that everyone who requests an invitation to the program will have an opportunity to purchase an Echo Auto eventually.
There appears to be pretty high demand for the device. Amazon executives told TechCrunch in January that it received more than 1 million pre-order requests for the device. Around that time, Echo Auto began to ship to those participating in the invite only program.
Amazon hasn’t said how well the devices launched last year are selling, but its own reports and external estimates give some clues. Overall, Amazon’s smart speaker sales have continued to grow at a rapid clip more than four years after the introduction of the first Echo device.
Many of the devices unveiled last year were either refreshed versions of earlier speakers or items that complement them or require one for use. By continually updating core products like the Echo and Echo Dot at these events and branching out with new devices, Amazon can bring in new customers, while also enticing existing users to upgrade to a new gadget or grab an accessory or two.
In the second quarter, Amazon shipped 6.6 million smart speakers, per Canalys, the most of any device maker in that period. That’s a 61 percent bump over the prior year, and it gave Amazon a 25 percent market share. Amazon sales grew faster than every other player in the study, except for Baidu, which saw a 3,700 percent spike in sales due to its dominance in China.
In contrast to Amazon’s rapid growth, Google slipped to third place in the second quarter and saw shipments decline 19 percent over the prior year.
On Prime Day, Amazon said it sold more than 175 million items overall, and named the pint-sized Echo Dot speakers as one of the top sellers. The latest edition of the Echo Dot was first unveiled at least year’s event.
Why is Amazon putting so much time and effort into expanding its catalog of smart speakers and building so many new gadgets to work with them? Research Nester estimates that the global smart speaker market will be a $34.4 billion business by 2027. It was just a $4.3 billion market in 2017, per a report from Allied Research Partners.
So what’s next? Amazon sent out invites to media for this week’s event, likely setting the stage for a line of new and updated gadgets. The tech giant hasn’t given much detail about the event, other than the date: Sept. 25. It is unclear what types of devices we will see, but it’s a sure bet that Alexa will be at the center of it all.
RELATED: Everything Amazon announced at the big devices event, from microwave to subwoofer to Alexa capabilities
Amazon has only recently begun holding reveal events for its devices. Though nowhere near the scope and scale of big release events from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google, Amazon has amped up its device catalog, and with it the size of events.
Device announcements in late summer and early fall have become common among tech giants in preparation for the busy holiday season. Earlier this month, Amazon unveiled a number of new Fire TV devices, including a new smart soundbar, a second-generation Fire TV Cube and more.
Two weeks ago, Apple held its latest iPhone release event. Microsoft is gearing up for an event Oct. 2 in New York City that is expected to be focused on new and updated Surface devices. On Oct. 15, Google is expected to unveil the next-generation Pixel smartphone at an event in New York City.
Stay tuned: GeekWire will be on site this week to see what Amazon has up its sleeve.
Editor’s Note: Dave Limp, Amazon’s devices and services chief, will speak at the upcoming GeekWire Summit.