Amazon Showcases New Echo Dots and Echo Auto Smart Speakers, Adds Roadside Assistance Alexa Commands
The latest generation of Echo smart speakers and related devices served as a centerpiece for Amazon’s hardware and services event this year. The tech giant revealed new iterations of the Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock, two new designs for the Echo Dot Kids, and a revamped Echo Auto for engaging with Alexa while driving. Though there isn’t a new Echo Studio in the mix, Amazon is pushing out a spatial audio software package for the sound-centric smart speaker in an over-the-air update.
The new versions of the Echo Dot, with and without a clock, look much the same as their spherical predecessors. However, they offer improved processing and audio power over the last versions and have a thermometer, accelerometer, and ultrasound-based motion detector embedded within. The new sensors are tied to features not available in the earlier Dots, such as tap gesture controls for Alexa. Users can now ask the voice assistant to adjust connected environmental devices based on temperature, turning on an air conditioner when the thermometer rises enough. The $60 Echo Dot with Clock has its own upgraded visuals lacking in its $50 sister device. The updated display can show the weather, scheduled events and times, music titles, and other information. The improvements essentially package features limited to the larger Echo smart speakers into the more compact Dots and contribute to Amazon’s emphasis on ‘ambient experiences.’ That includes eero mesh wifi extenders. The $200 Echo Studio’s upgrades are purely software-based, but Amazon’s smart speaker for audiophiles will soon be able to process spatial audio data and widen its frequency range to make stereo experiences more powerful and add immediacy to movies and TV soundtracks. The Echo Show 15 smart display will also receive this over-the-air upgrade.
“A true ambient experience is there to simplify your day-to-day life when you need it and fades into the background when you don’t. This generation of Echo devices are designed with this vision in mind,” Amazon Alexa devices vice president Nedim Fresko said. “With the upgraded audio and compact form factors, each of these new devices give customers more ways to make Alexa a seamless part of their day. And, with the new sensors and technology built in to Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock, customers can have Alexa do even more on their behalf.”
For the child-focused Echo Dot Kids, Amazon decided to expand its cartoonish animal options. The new owl and dragon models cost the same $60 as the existing tiger and panda designs and come with the same year-long subscription to Amazon Kids+. The new animals won’t just be visually different, however. Amazon teased that the owl and dragon will have their own custom Alexa voice to match the character and unique “character-inspired songs, jokes, and fun facts on Echo Dot Kids or any Echo device powered by Amazon Kids+.” The presentation didn’t indicate if there would be tiger and panda voice options in the voice AI menagerie.
AAA – Alexa Automobile Association
The new Echo Auto is the first hardware update for the in-car Alexa access point since Amazon released the first version in 2019 after a year of testing. The second edition changes nearly everything about the device. It’s smaller and lighter, with only five microphones instead of eight, and it can be mounted with adhesive instead of on an air vent. Improved hardware means the reduced microphone number shouldn’t impact how well Alexa hears requests. Alexa still uses a car’s speakers to respond.
“Ambient technology is at its best in environments where people are focused on other tasks, and nowhere is that more important than in the car,” Amazon Alexa vice president Heather Zorn said. “Voice can minimize distractions and help you keep your eyes on the road so you can focus on the fun of driving.”
The embedded Roadside Assistance feature is the most notable addition to the $55 device’s Alexa toolset. Drivers can ask Alexa to “call Roadside Assistance” and get connected to an agent who will arrange a replacement tire, extra gas, or other emergency services. Amazon didn’t say what company it is working with to provide help with cars, just that the cost drivers pay is based solely on the service provided. The obvious candidate is Blink Roadside, a third-party Alexa skill created by app developer Agero that Amazon gave top-level intents almost two years ago. That means telling Alexa you’re out of gas or have a flat tire prompts the voice assistant to enable the skill and begin arranging help through its providers as though it were an Amazon-built native Alexa feature. We’ve reached out to Agero and Amazon to ask if that’s the case and will update when we learn more.