Amazon has unveiled new products and updates to its virtual assistant Alexa in an event at its Seattle headquarters.
New hardware unveiled at the event included several new Amazon Echo speakers — the company has the best-selling smart speaker range in the world.
The new Echo Studio (£189.99) aims to rival smart speakers designed with high-quality sound in mind, such as Apple’s HomePod and Sonos.
Sonos stock took a hit at the news, with the company closing down 5%, with Amazon ending the day 1.5% higher.
The company also announced its new "neural-to-text" speech model, which allows Alexa to sound more realistic.
As well as the updates, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services David Limp also tackled privacy concerns from customers during the event.
Mr Limp even showed a tweet he received from a customer during his speech, which complained that the smart speaker was "joining into conversations" without the device’s activation word of "Alexa" being spoken.
"We care about this," Mr Limp said. "Privacy is absolutely foundational to everything we do in and around Alexa."
He added that customers can now ask Alexa devices to delete everything said in a day, as well as opting out from having their voices transcribed by humans to improve the accuracy of the technology.
But some of the company’s rivals have gone one step further. Users of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri now have to opt in if they want to let the tech giant use their voice to improve services.
"There’s no doubt that smarthome devices can be very useful, particularly for vulnerable or frail people living alone: being able to see who’s at the door and control lights or heating via an app or your voice are a boon for those who struggle with mobility, for example," said Kate Bevan, editor of Which? Computing.
"However, it is important that Amazon as well as other companies make sure that they are upfront and transparent about the data they gather and how long it’s stored for, especially voice recordings, and consent should be clear and opt in rather than being presumed.
"There are also concerns about the longevity and security of smarthome devices in general: as there’s not enough transparency about how long they’ll continue to get security updates," she added.
What did Amazon launch at the event?
1. Echo Buds — £119.99
Amazon’s new wireless earbuds have Bose Active Noise Reduction Technology, as well as access to Alexa, meaning users can stream music, make phonecalls and play audiobooks with just their voice.
2. Echo Studio — £189.99
A new rival for high-quality audio smart speakers, such as the Google Nest Max, Apple HomePod, and Sonos One, Echo Studio uses Dolby Atmos technology to provide a 3D effect for music.
3. Amazon Smart Oven — estimated £203 ($250), including free Echo Dot
Yes, Amazon is launching an Alexa-powered microwave. It includes air frying and convection cooking, as well as the usual functions of a microwave.
The device also uses the Alexa app or Echo Show cameras to scan labels from Whole Food products and set itself correctly so as to best cook food.
4. Echo Frames — estimated £145
Unlike Google Glass, these Echo Frames do not have a camera and display. Instead, the glasses have an Alexa-enabled speaker and microphone. They won’t be sold with prescription lenses, although they can be added.
5. Echo Loop — estimated £105
Amazon also debuted a large Alexa-enabled ring, with two built in speakers. Users press a button on the Loop ring, talk softly to Alexa, and then listen to its answer.
The ring, as well as the glasses, will only be available in the US to selected customers.
6. Celebrity voices — 80p
Avengers and Pulp Fiction star Samuel L Jackson is the first celebrity voice to be used by Amazon for their Alexa devices. Users will be able to choose whether they want Jackson’s voice to swear or not.
The company also hinted that more celebrity voices will be added in the future.
7. Ring Fetch
Amazon Sidewalk is a new low-bandwidth network that’s meant to extend to outdoor smart devices (weather sensors, lights, sprinkler systems, etc). Fetch (not shipping till next year) is a smart dog-collar tracker that might use this protocol. pic.twitter.com/54VMtPxMFc— Monica Chin (@mcsquared96) September 25, 2019
Amazon has combined their Ring system of security devices, along with a new wireless product called Amazon Sidewalk, which powers ultra-low power devices and connects them over long distances, to create a pet tag.
Users would be able to see where their pets are or if they’d escaped from homes and gardens. The company did not give a price or release date for Fetch, but did suggest it may be released in 2020.