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Main article: Amazon hardware event 2019

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Alexa developers can now personalize their skills by recognizing the user’s voice

18:13 | 26 September

Amazon Alexa is already capable of identifying different voices to give personalized responses to different users in the household, thanks to the added support for voice profiles two years ago. Now, those same personalization capabilities will be offered to Alexa Skill developers, Amazon has announced.

Alongside Amazon’s big rollout of new consumer devices on Wednesday, the company also introduced a new “skill personalization” feature for the Alexa Skills Kit, that lets developers tap into the voice profiles that customers create through the Alexa companion app or from their device.

This expanded capability lets developers make skills that are able to remember a user’s custom settings, address their preferences when using the skill, and just generally recognize the different household members who are speaking at the time, among other things.

To work, Alexa will send a directed identifier — a generated string of characters and numbers — to the skill in question, if the customer has a voice profile set up. Every time the customer returns to that skill, the same identifier is share. This identifier doesn’t include any personally identifiable information, Amazon says, and is different for each voice profile for each skill the customer users.

Skill developers can then leverage this information to generate personalized greetings or responses based on the customers’ likes, dislikes, and interests.

If the customer doesn’t want to use skill personalization even though they configured a voice profile, they can opt out of the feature in the Alexa app.

Personalization could be a particular advantage to Alexa skills like games, where users may want to save their progress, or to music or podcasts/audio programming skills, where taste preferences come into play.

However, Alexa’s process for establishing voice profiles still requires manual input on users’ parts — people have to configure the option in the Alexa companion app’s settings, or say to Alexa, “learn my voice.” Many consumers may not know it’s even an option — which means developers interested in the feature may have to educate users by way of informational tips in their own apps, at first.

The feature is launching into preview, which means Amazon is just now opening up the ability to select developers. Those interested in putting the option to use will have to apply for access and wait to hear back.

 


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Amazon makes it easier for smart home devices to alert customers to low supply levels

17:38 | 26 September

Alongside all the new Alexa-powered consumer devices Amazon introduced yesterday, the company also unveiled a new set of tools for the makers of smart home device skills that will allow them to tap into Alexa to re-order their supplies. Think — things like printer ink, air filters for smart thermostats, detergent for washing machines, or anything else that has replaceable parts.

This is an area Amazon has focused on before, by way of the Dash Replenishment Service, or DRS. Devices that use the service’s APIs can automatically re-order their supplies, after a customer sets up their account and selects the product they’ll want to be shipped when they run low.

The new set of tools is an extension to that earlier service, as it will allow the device makers to alert their customers they’re low on necessary supplies by way of Alexa’s skills.

This will work by way of a new set of inventory sensors, due to launch soon, in Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API. There are three different types of sensors to choose from, depending on the device’s needs.

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The first to arrive sometime later this year is the Alexa.InventoryLevelSensor. This will address the needs of devices where the consumable product is stored internally — like the batteries in smart cameras or printer ink, for example.

Next year, two other sensors will launch. The Alexa.InventoryUsageSensor will work when the product is not stored internally, but the device can determine when a certain amount of consumable inventory is used. In this case, good examples would include a smart coffee pot, washing machine, or dishwasher.

The third, Alexa.InventoryLevelUsageSensor, can be used when the consumable product is stored internally, and the device can report on its usage rather than its current state. For example, a smart thermostat could report the fan time to let customers know it’s time to change the air filter. Or a vacuum cleaner could alert customers to replace a dust bag.

By using these APIs, Alexa can help the customers manage their household supplies, by letting them know they’re low or helping them to set up automatic re-orders in the Alexa app. If the customer chooses to set up smart re-ordering, that’s when the Dash Replenishment Service will kick in. Unlike Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save” shopping feature, these smart home supply re-orders will only be placed when the consumable item is running low.

The benefit of this design is that it can help nudge smart home device users to place orders — from Amazon, the company hopes, just by having Alexa remind them. And it can also work even if the customer doesn’t want to set up automatic re-ordering for some reason — perhaps because they shop for supplies locally or want to comparison shop online.

Amazon says August, Blink, Ring, Schlage, and Yale are already working on including inventory sensors to report battery levels from their skills, and Coway is working to report the usage of air filters.

In addition to helping their customers manage their household, the new feature will also enable smart home kill developers to establish recurring revenue streams associated with their devices. When a customer signs up for Dash Replenishment, Amazon pays out a one-time referral fee. And then as the re-orders come in, developers will earn a revenue share on all the orders placed — even if ordered manually following an Alexa notification. Of course, if the device maker is selling its own manufactured products, they’ll earn even more.

Amazon says all U.S. developers will be able to use the new inventory sensors soon.

 


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Ears-on with Amazon’s new Echo earbuds, framebuds, and ringbud

00:19 | 26 September

Amazon announced more than a few devices today during an event at its headquarters in Seattle, and it was the smallest gadgets that made the biggest impression. The company built Alexa into earbuds, glasses, and a ring with the Echo Buds, Echo Frames, and Echo Loop. I’ve tried them all out.

The ones people are most likely to actually want are the earbuds, of course. With Bose noise reduction and Alexa functions built in, they’ll be a popular option for anyone for anyone who doesn’t want to take out their phone, but also doesn’t want to wear large over-hear headphones.

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The Echo Buds are somewhat large — bigger than several sets of wireless headphones I’ve seen and tried, though they were comfortable after being corkscrewed into my ear.

They have two modes: noise reduction and passthrough, which you switch between with a double tap on either bud. The noise reduction was considerable but certainly not to the level you’d expect from a pair of over-ears. In-ear headphones already provide a physical barrier to sound getting in, but the addition of three microphones on each ear (two external and one internal) let it do the usual electronic reduction as well. I could still hear the crowd around me and people speaking to me, but it was easily drowned out by the Billie Eilish song they queued up.

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Passthrough provided a quick and clear version of surrounding audio with no noticeable delay. Music and other stuff can still be played in this mode and it blended pretty seamlessly in.

Of course the Echo Buds, like pretty much everything else at the event, have Alexa built in. You get at the service via wake word, a process that worked well for me.

Their little case looks more fiddly than it is. Magnets snap the contacts onto each other and it begins charging immediately. You should get some 4-5 hours with the buds, out to 20 hours if you drain the case too.

About five feet away from these headphones, and with a half hour wait to test out, were the new Echo Frames. These glasses can be customized with your prescription, though sadly the design and material are locked in.

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The oversized arms of the glasses house the Alexa hardware, and while the glasses themselves are pretty light, the thickness is definitely noticeable from any angle. The underside of the right arm has an activation button and a volume rocker, as well as the port for magnetic charging. The big shiny sides are touch sensitive; You swipe to accept a call, respond to Alexa offering more info, and so on.

The sound is a bit like someone whispering in your ear — you wouldn’t want to listen to music on these, the Amazon folks admitted. But speech was clear and Alexa commands were handled quickly.

The speakers aren’t exactly hidden: Each arm has two speakers inside, each of which has two “ports,” one on top and one on bottom. I asked the demonstrator probably five times why there are ports on the top if the sound needs to come out the bottom, but all she would say is that it’s how they made the directional audio work.

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Perhaps that’s also why I could hear the Alexa responses from a foot or two away in a crowded room. You can configure it so only certain things get played automatically, which is good, because if the person on the bus next to me heard some of the texts I get, they might be alarmed.

Honestly it’s not much worse, though a bit clearer, than if someone is using bad earbuds. Just be aware that if you use these things, others might be hearing that whispered text conversation too.

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Last, and weirdest, is the Echo Loop. It’s a big fat ring that you can use to ask Alexa questions and hear the answers. The big part with the dots isn’t actually the speaker, but rather part of the microphone array — presumably for subtracting ambient noise so the speech recognition works better. The inside of the ring is where you’ll find the tiny speaker — the smallest of any Amazon device, it was said — and mic.

alexa echo amazon 9250075

You tap a button to activate Alexa, and the ring will vibrate to let you know it’s time to talk. You then ask your hand the question you have in mind, and afterwards cup the ring to your ear — right up to it, because this speaker is tiny. A second or two later, out comes Alexa’s voice, sounding like an old transistor radio, telling you the weather in Barcelona or whatever.

Does it work? Yes, it does. It’s a ring you can ask questions. The speaker is pretty quiet and you need to find the right position to hear it well (admittedly it was fairly loud in the room), but the ring speaks.

It’s not for everybody, which is why it, along with the glasses, are part of the new Day One Edition series of questionable devices. But if you can think of a way it might be useful, be assured: It works as advertised.

 


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Amazon wants to put microphones into your rings and glasses

21:45 | 25 September

At the end of its hardware event today, Amazon announced a new program for testing and selling its own experimental, limited-volume hardware: Day 1 Editions.

The first of these new products is Echo Frames. These are Alexa-enabled glasses, though unlike Google Glass, there’s no camera and no display, just microphones and a speaker.

The second is the Echo Loop, a rather large Alexa-enabled ring with two built-in microphones and, of course, a tiny speaker. Both of these will be available on an invite-only basis and in limited volumes later this year.

The frames will retail for $179.99 and the Loop will be $99.99.

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The glasses, which will sell without any prescription lenses (though you can add those if you want), weigh in at 31 grams. They aren’t especially stylish, though they look pretty acceptable.

The ring is maybe the oddest product Amazon demoed at its event today. It’s pretty large and I can’t quite see people talking into their rings and then listening to what Alexa has to say in response, but I could be wrong. Maybe it’s the next big thing.

“Paired with your phone, this ring lets you access information throughout the day,” Amazon writes. “It’s super easy to connect with Alexa without breaking stride or digging out your phone, for those simple things like turning on the lights or calculating the tip on your lunch bill. Simply press a button, talk softly to Alexa, and then the answer comes discretely through a small speaker built into the ring.”

To be fair, though, these are very much experimental products that are meant to allow Amazon to get feedback from real customers. But that’s what Amazon said about its Alexa-enabled microwave, too, and now it’s the best-selling fridge on the site.

Image from iOS 5 1

 


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Amazon Sidewalk is a new long-range wireless network for your stuff

21:25 | 25 September

At its annual hardware event in Seattle, Amazon today announced Sidewalk, a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol the company is developing to connect all of the IoT devices in and around your house.

Amazon argues that Bluetooth and WiFi don’t have enough range, while 5F takes too much power and is too complex.

“We came up with something that we call Amazon Sidewalk,” Amazon’s device chief Dave Limp said at the event today. “Amazon Sidewalk is a brand new low bandwidth network that uses the already existing free over the air 900 megahertz spectrum. We think it will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date — but first and foremost, it will extend in the distance at which you can control these kinds of simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.

The details here remain a bit vague, but Amazon says that you may be able to use Sidewalk to connect to devices that can be up to a mile away, depending on how the base station and devices are positioned.

Image from iOS 3 1

Amazon already sent out 700 test devices to households in L.A. to test the access points — and once you have a lot of access points, you create a network with some pretty broad coverage.

Amazon says it’ll publish the protocol so that other device makers can also integrate it into their devices.

The first product that uses Sidewalk? A dog tag, so that you’ll hopefully see fewer lost dogs on your local Nextdoor in the near future because if your dog now leaves the perimeter, you’ll get an alert. This new tag, the Ring Fetch, will launch next year.

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Amazon’s Echo Buds bring Alexa to your earholes

21:24 | 25 September

Amazon had a lot of surprises at this morning’s big event in Seattle. This one, however, we saw coming from a mile away. Echo Buds are the company’s attempt to compete with the likes of AirPods by bringing its smart assistant directly to wearers’ ears.

Priced at $129, the wireless earbuds are relatively inexpensive as far as brand names go. We can’t really speak to quality right now, but Amazon has teamed up with Bose for these to bring active noise cancelation. That’s accessible with a tap, similar to what Sony introduced with its own earbuds.

The product is clearly designed to help Alexa grow outside of the home, a market the company hasn’t captured as well as native mobile assistants like Siri and Google Assistant. That said, Amazon is also giving users the ability to access those assistants native to the user’s mobile phone.

As with the rest of the products announced at the event, Echo Buds are available for preorder starting today.

 


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How Amazon is closing out competitors by opening up voice

21:20 | 25 September

We’ve come a long way with voice-based interfaces in the last several years: They can find and play the music you like, tell you jokes, set timers, control your lights and help you shop, among many other things. But the battle lines were drawn from the start when it came to territory. The biggest hardware companies — Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung — have up to now built their own voice assistants, taking a proprietary approach to encourage growth of their own ecosystems of services around their devices.

That model limits consumer choice, however, and it limits the kinds of developments that might spring out of a more collaborative, cacophonous approach.

Now we are seeing small signs of how that might be shifting. This week, Amazon announced the formation of a new consortium called the Voice Interoperability Group, which aims to create a set of standards and technology for hardware to handle one voice service, with users able to trigger one voice over another by way of “wake words.”

“Multiple simultaneous wake words provide the best option for customers,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, in a statement. “Utterance by utterance, customers can choose which voice service will best support a particular interaction. It’s exciting to see these companies come together in pursuit of that vision.”

 


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Amazon introduces an Alexa-compatible smart oven

21:16 | 25 September

The Alexa microwave admittedly seemed a bit goofy when Amazon introduced it at an event this time last year. But low cost coupled with the company’s built-in promotional machine have made it the best selling microwave on the site — that’s no small feat.

Now it’s returning with the Amazon Smart Oven. From the look of it, the product is a much cheaper take on devices like the June Oven. The device adds convection cooking, air frying and food drying to existing microwave functionality.

The product also represents a nice bit of cross-brand synergy, using the Alexa app or Echo Show camera to scan in labels from Whole Foods products and set itself accordingly. Amazon says the “scan to cook” feature works with “hundreds of different Whole Foods products.

The Smart Oven is available for preorder today at $250. Orders include a free Echo Dot, because why not?

 


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Echo Flex is a small, $25 Echo that plugs directly into the wall

21:06 | 25 September

I think we’re on Echo device number seven for the morning? Echo Flex is one of the more interesting additions at this morning’s big event in Seattle. For those cases where the Echo Dot isn’t cheap enough or versatile enough, there’s the Echo Flex. The device plugs directly into a wall outlet, bringing Alexa functionality to spots where the smart assistant otherwise couldn’t reach.

It’s an interesting solution to Amazon’s on-going quest to get Alexa in every single room. In fact, the presenter mentioned adding one to his bathroom, which, yuck, to be totally honest. The device is small enough to only occupy a single outlet and features a slot to plug in an additional nightlight.

It’s a clever addition to the Echo ecosystem, and at $25, Amazon bound to sell a lot of the things. Like just about everything else announced a this morning’s event, it’s available for pre-order starting today.

 


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Amazon introduces new $99 Eero mesh Wifi routers

21:00 | 25 September

Amazon is launching a new generation of Eero router, the first new iteration of Eero hardware since it acquired the company earlier this year. The new router is $99 for one, or available in a three-pack for $249, and is available in the U.S. today and in Europe later this year.

Alongside the new hardware, Amazon has added even more specific voice commands for its routers, including the ability to turn on and off guest Wifi via voice, as well as pause Wifi access for specific devices on the network (Amazon showed off turning off the PlayStation Wifi as one example). These features go above and beyond what’s currently available for third-party devices, but Amazon says it’s also making an API available and that routers from TP-Link, Asus, Linksys and Arris will able to take advantage, as well.
Image from iOS 5

Amazon’s intent with the revised Eero and Alexa commands is to make the whole process of setting up and managing a secure Wifi network super easy for everyone.

The price point on the new Eero is certainly attractive, and more competitive than the previous version, which started at $149 for just a beacon alone, and $199 for the hub. No word yet on specifications for the type of Wifi on board (Amazon didn’t mention Wifi 6, for instance) but we’ll have more info once it’s available.

 


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