Amazon Unveils Alexa-Powered Smart Glasses, Smart Ring
Amazon’s big hardware event on Wednesday showcased more than a dozen new devices. The Echo Frames smart glasses and Echo Loop smart ring stand out for being the first two entrants for Amazon’s Day 1 Editions program, and as new approaches by Amazon in the wearable tech space.
Framing Alexa and Marrying Voice
The Day 1 Editions program allows Amazon to test out new products and get feedback from customers while still charging for the privilege. The Echo Frames and Loop will be the guinea pigs for the program. Before purchasing either device, customers have to request an invitation and fill out a survey to find out if they qualify to buy the Frames or Loop.
The Echo Frames are an Alexa-powered set of smart glasses. Unlike the North Focals smart glasses, which received an investment from the Alexa Fund, the Echo Frames are strictly audio. They’re more like the Bose Frames smart glasses in that respect, except that Alexa can be activated any time in the Echo Frames. The smart glasses will eventually have an option for prescription lenses, but for now, they are expensive faux glasses. The glasses retail for $180 at the current introductory price but will eventually be sold for $250.
The Echo Loop is a more unusual wearable device. It is a finger ring built with two tiny microphones and a small speaker to allow communication with Alexa and a smartphone. This could be a way for Amazon to encourage people to use Alexa on their smartphones. The ring can even make phone calls if you are okay with looking like someone talking into an invisible walkie-talkie. The Loop is $130 at the introductory price but will cost $180 once that period ends.
Wearable is the Fashion
Smart wearable technology is spreading quickly. Rumors that Facebook has partnered with Ray-Ban to build smart glasses popped up this week and the Bose Frames have been around since February. Amazon didn’t say who was behind the fashion aspect of the Frames design, but the glasses do seem to be aimed for fashion as much as function. The same cannot be said of the Loop ring. By necessity, even the smallest version of the black ring has to be a certain size to contain its hardware. The ring used as an auxiliary control for the North Focals, also called a Loop, is fairly slender but still draws comments from some people, as I know first-hand from wearing one.
That matters when it comes to wearable tech because social acceptance is a barrier in the industry. Amazon doesn’t want to suffer from the “Glasshole effect,” but unlike the Frames or most current smartwatches, the Loop is less likely to slot invisibly into people’s lives. Even if the Loop means you don’t check your phone as often, an audible notification or seeing someone’s finger vibrate suddenly may be jarring.
Amazon’s willingness to bet on the wearable tech space like this speaks to the underlying potential of including voice technology in everything. Amazon wants to make Alexa part of people’s lives wherever they are, and wearables spread that ecosystem in ways no other Alexa-enabled product could. The success of the individual products is uncertain, but the space itself is only going to grow as more companies experiment with the possibilities.