Amazon is holding a hardware launch event next week, on September 25, where it is expected to reveal a number of new Alexa-equipped devices for the smart home. The invitation said we will see "new things from the Amazon Devices and Services team".
The event comes a year after a new hardware bonanza saw Amazon announce a new Echo Dot and Echo Sub, a wall clock and microwave with Alexa, the Echo Input, Echo Auto, and more.
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For 2019, we don't expect to see those aforementioned devices getting an update, as smart home products tend to go more than a year before being refreshed. But that doesn't mean the event will be any quieter than last year, as there is still plenty for Amazon to get its teeth stuck into.
Here are our predictions for the next Amazon hardware event which takes place on September 25:
Update: 24 September
With just a day to go until the event kicks off, it was reported that Amazon is working on its first health product, in the form of fitness-tracking earphones. Expected to take on the Apple AirPods, but at a lower price, the earphones could include Alexa as a personal trainer, and are expected to make interacting with the voice assistant a more personal experience.
It was also reported that Amazon is working on a "bulkier" Echo smart speaker, suggesting higher quality audio and a move which could see Amazon take on Apple and Sonos.
New third-generation Echo
The current second-generation Amazon Echo was released in October 2017, so is likely to receive an update this fall. We expect to see a similar cylindrical design as today's model, but with a focus on improved sound quality, plus new colors and materials.
This would see Amazon up its game and square up to the likes of Sonos and even Apple. The former of those two companies partnered with Ikea this year to make a pair of smart speakers which run either Alexa or Google Assistant, while blending Sonos' clever networking technology with Ikea's low prices.
There hasn't been any leaks yet for a new Echo, and the rumor mill has also been rather quiet so far. But Amazon has earned itself a good track record for keeping its new hardware a secret before the curtain drops.
New Echo Show (or at least improved software)
Amazon updated its Echo Show smart display this time last year, and added the smaller Echo Show 5 to the lineup earlier in 2019. But, while this would suggest new hardware seems unlikely, we'd like to see Amazon release new software for both devices.
This is because, in our opinion, Google and its Nest Home Hub range is winning the smart display war. The user interface makes more sense, is more attractive, and works well as a smart home control center, with quick and simple ways to adjust devices like lights and thermostats.
The new Nest Hub Max also includes a camera for recognizes you when you walk by, then showing relevant information, like your next calendar entries. We also think Google's smart displays look more attractive than the Echo Show, but as we said above, we doubt there will be a hardware update this time around. A software overhaul would be more than welcome.
A focus on audio quality
An overarching theme we expect to see from Amazon's hardware event next month is better sound quality. That isn't to say there is much wrong with the current Echo - and we like how two can be paired together, and to the Echo Sub for a decent 2.1 system.
But we'd like to see Amazon offer a more premium speaker, bump up the price slightly, and capture a segment of the market between the $200 Sonos/Ikea speakers, and the $300 Apple HomePod. The $150 Echo Plus with integrated Zigbee sits in this space now, but in reality offers little to separate it from the regular Echo.
Throw in a more premium design and perhaps a couple of unique software features, and charge in the region of $250, and we think Amazon could be onto a winner.
Given the company is venturing more and more into our living rooms, there's an opportunity here to sell a more attention-grabbing, premium-looking centrepiece of a smart speaker. Just like Samsung had promised to do with the striking Galaxy Home, which, over a year after launching, is yet to go on sale.
Household devices with Alexa baked in
Last year's event made headlines for Amazon's desire to put its Alexa voice assistant in everything, from microwaves to wall clocks.
We expect to see more of the same at this year's event, as Amazon wants to show how Alexa can be shoehorned into every corner of our homes, giving blanket access to everything the assistant can do.
It could be a smart move for Amazon to follow Ikea and Sonos with an Alexa-powered lamp of its own, or perhaps a light switch - maybe even a thermostat.
As we discussed on GearBrain recently, the smart home of the future will have ears everywhere, and putting these in the place of existing devices, like light switches and thermostats, makes a lot of sense.
This of course raises privacy concerns - especially in the wake of revelations of how companies have used humans to listen to what we say to voice assistants. But we think, if companies like Amazon are more transparent about their actions, consumer interest will remain and voice assistants will continue to thrive right across our homes.
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