Last September, Amazon unveiled a dozen new and updated devices at its annual big hardware unveiling — double the number it unveiled at a smaller gathering a year before. It’s been four months since that big event at the Spheres, and issues with a few devices are popping up.
This week, Amazon temporarily pulled one of the devices announced at the September event, the $30 Echo Wall Clock, because a “small number of customers have had issues with connectivity,” a company spokesperson told GeekWire. Amazon said it is addressing the issue and plans to resume selling the Echo Wall Clock in the “coming weeks.”
Another one of the new devices, the $60 AmazonBasics Microwave, arrived to a mixed reaction. Proponents enjoy the Alexa integration, and the fact that it costs the same as most other microwaves of similar size and power. But other reviewers, including those of us at GeekWire, criticized the device and complained about connectivity issues.
To be sure, some big hits came out of last September’s event. GeekWire’s resident smart home enthusiast Todd Bishop loved the new $25 Amazon Smart Plug. Refreshed versions of some of the core Alexa devices — Echo Show, Echo Plus and Echo Dot — each got rave reviews.
But the struggles of some of the more surprising devices have us wondering whether the tech giant has bitten off more than it can chew in this rapid expansion of its first-party lineup of Alexa devices. After all, third-party device makers of all kinds have shown they are more than willing to put Alexa in anything and everything.
At CES in Las Vegas earlier this month, Amazon said there are now 150 products with Alexa-built in natively, from headphones and PCs, to cars and smart home devices. Amazon’s own products make up about 10 percent of all the devices with Alexa built in.
Working with partners to help spread Alexa has been a winning strategy for Amazon. In addition to Alexa appearing in numerous third-party devices, developers have built tens of thousands of third-party capabilities for the digital assistant. That has helped the digital brain rack up a total of more than 70,000 skills.
Amazon consistently touts the sales of its own devices as top choices during key shopping periods. The company recently disclosed that lifetime sales of Echo and other Alexa-powered Amazon devices exceeded 100 million units. The Echo Dot topped the charts for sales on Amazon over the holiday season.
Amazon has worked through hardware misses before — who can forget the Fire Phone? The company seemed to learn from that and hasn’t tried to build another phone yet. But we’ve seen what can happen when a company expands too aggressively, specifically in the hardware arena. Ahem, Microsoft, we’re looking at you.
If Amazon does hold another big hardware event this year, will it continue to rapidly expand its catalog of first-party devices? Or will it narrow its focus to continue beefing up the devices that helped it climb to the top of the smart speaker leaderboard in the first place?