Amazon May Release a Pint Size Version of the Echo

Posted by at 11:06 am on January 12, 2016

amazon echoAmazon.com Inc. is doubling down on voice-controlled hardware, part of the Seattle retailer’s broader ambition to overtake rival tech giants with digital assistants that blend into everyday life. In the coming weeks, Amazon expects to release a smaller, portable version of its voice-activated tabletop Echo speaker, building off the device’s surprise success since it was released in November 2014, according to people familiar with the plans.

The new device is code named “Fox,” they added. The Pringles-can-sized Echo must be plugged into an outlet, answers questions, creates shopping lists, plays music and can even turn connected lights on and off upon command. The new portable device is expected to sell at a lower price than the $180 Echo in part to attract more buyers, these people said. Amazon has thus far declined any official comment.

What started as somewhat of a funky experiment to test voice activation and collect data about consumer behavior has morphed into a potentially lucrative strategy to keep people coming back to the company’s retail site. Initially, many critics and consumers didn’t know what to make of the Echo, and some have been unsettled by the device’s Alexa software that is always listening for its name.

But generally Amazon has received positive reviews for its ability to serve as a personal assistant and for the powerful microphones that can hear a voice from another room. Amazon doesn’t release sales figures, but on its own site, more than 30,000 reviewers have given the Echo an average 4.5 out of 5 stars—a contrast to the company’s failed Fire phone in which 43% of reviewers on the site rated it one star.

Amazon has bulked up the Echo’s features, adding traffic and weather reports, Yelp restaurant recommendations, streaming music services and home automation. The company also has begun pushing the Alexa software into others’ devices, in part due to a $100 million fund to encourage hardware makers to continue innovating.

Last week, for example, Amazon announced a partnership with Ford Motor Co. to integrate Alexa software into its vehicles so that, say, garage doors could be opened by voice command. The initiatives could help make Amazon’s voice-activated software ubiquitous inside and outside the home, helping the company battle Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp. which largely have relied on smartphones and tablets for their voice assistants.

Meanwhile, Amazon is hoping it can repeat the cult success of the Echo device, potentially attracting the same customers who helped make its $50 bargain-priced Fire tablet a winner during the 2015 holiday season. The new Fox device is designed to fit comfortably in the palm of a user’s hand, like a beer can, the people said. It calls to mind Apple’s popular Beats Pill portable speaker, though Amazon’s version rests vertically on a surface, these people said.

Unlike the Echo, which must always be plugged in to listen for voice commands, Fox can be charged on a docking station and responds to voice command only by pushing a button, a necessary compromise to preserve battery life.

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