Are there now too many Amazon Echo devices? – CNET

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These are just some of Amazon’s Echo products.

Ry Crist/CNET

By midday Wednesday, the homepage of Amazon.com was scrubbed clean of nearly all its usual listings for clever coffee mugs, flamingo-shaped pool inflatables and audaciously patterned socks.

Instead, the massive e-retailer transformed what is arguably the most valuable shopping real estate online into an electronics site that showcased its six new Alexa-enabled products.

Yes, six.

Amazon introduced a new Echo, the Echo Plus and the Echo Spot. Oh, and Echo Connect. And Echo Buttons … and a new Fire TV that works with Alexa, the voice assistant that powers the Echo.

The new devices come on the heels of two other Echo gadgets — the Look and Show — that Amazon unveiled this year. Those, of course, followed last year’s Dot and Amazon Tap. And that doesn’t include Alexa-powered speakers created by other companies, like Lenovo and Anker.

You may be left wondering: Isn’t that a few too many Amazon smart speakers? If so, you have company.

“My first thought when I saw this range was to go to Amazon and ask them, ‘What are you going to get rid of from the already established devices?'” Francesco Radicati, an Ovum analyst focused on smart homes, said Wednesday.

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Of course, there are good reasons for Amazon to make so many variations of its Alexa devices. 

When it created the Echo in 2014, Amazon also created the smart speaker market. Importantly, it had the new market to itself. Now, everyone seems to be jumping in. Apple, Google, Samsung and Sony are just the biggest names on the list of contenders.

Amazon may feel it needs to keep creating new forms for Alexa so customers won’t be wooed away. For now, Amazon has a big lead, capturing seven out of every 10 smart speaker customers in the US, according to eMarketer. Google is a distant second.

The strategy has a potential downside. With so many models, Amazon may end up with some duds. Plus, customers could become confused about which Echo speakers have what capabilities. 

Just as bad, Amazon’s devices could end up competing with each other, Ovum’s Radicati says, rather than the speakers Google, Apple and others make. For example, the $130 (roughly £100) Echo Spot, which has a built-in display, could cannibalize sales of the similar but larger $230 Echo Show (£200).

Amazon says the sweep of its line and range in prices means Alexa will reach a wider audience.

“We are giving our customers choice to suit their lifestyle and various needs around the home,” Miriam Daniel, director of Echo devices and Alexa, said Wednesday. “Sometimes audio-only devices fulfill their needs and sometimes visual experiences are necessary.”

That choice can be seen in the fashion-focused $200 Echo Look (£200), video-chat-enabled Echo Show and on-the-go $130 (roughly £100 and AU$170) Tap

“Echo is going broad, as general purpose devices, as well as deep, in specialist devices,” Werner Goertz, a Gartner analyst, said. “What they are trying to do is fill every possible gap, so you have an Echo for all occasions.”

Here’s the rub. Despite nine variations of Echo products, most buyers — by far — have opted for the $50/£50 Echo Dot, according to Adobe research and Amazon’s own best-seller pages. The Amazon Tap, meanwhile, hasn’t sold nearly as well. It’s unclear whether people will spring for the new, sleeker-designed Echo, which is double the price of a Dot, or feel the need to upgrade an existing Echo.

Experimenting

Amazon has also started moving Alexa out of the home by building the smart assistant in phones and teaming up with carmakers Ford and BMW to add Alexa into their vehicles. The Financial Times this month reported that Amazon was even working on a pair of smart glasses that allowed users to chat with Alexa. (Amazon has declined to comment about the glasses.)

Amazon might be wise getting out in front of the competition. Google is expected to introduce a new miniaturized and cheaper version of its Google Home speaker next week, and Apple will start selling its $349 (£270) HomePod speaker in December.

Now is the time for Amazon to seed the market with as many Echo devices as it can to box out competitors, argues Paul Erickson, an IHS Markit analyst.

“They are being very aggressive right now because they have a certain window of opportunity that they see,” Erickson said. He isn’t sure Amazon will find markets for all its new products, but it was important for the company to experiment because the smart-home devices are new and their boundaries haven’t been tested.

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Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, agrees. “We are really trying to find what makes people tick,” she said, “so trying different things is not bad.”

Amazon’s decision to make its homepage all about the Echo for even a day shows that it will be focused on building the Alexa ecosystem for the foreseeable future. So, even if you’re already confused, you should expect more Echo devices to come.

‘Alexa, be more human’: Inside Amazon’s effort to make its voice assistant smarter, chattier and more like you.

Amazon: All things Amazon, from Echo to Prime deals. 

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