Amazon amplifies its line of voice-controlled devices

SAN FRANCISCO -- Amazon.com is introducing two devices designed to amplify the role its voice-controlled assistant Alexa plays in people's homes and lives.

See Full Article

The products unveiled Thursday are echoes of Amazon's Echo, a cylinder-shaped speaker with Internet-connected microphones that became Alexa's first major showcase when it debuted in late 2014. Set these gadgets up and they'll listen for your voice and respond to commands -- for instance, to read the morning's headlines.

Both new devices, called the Amazon Tap and Echo Dot, cost less than the $180 Echo and offer slightly different features in an attempt to plant Amazon's Internet-connected microphones in more homes and other places.

In doing so, Amazon hopes to outmanoeuvr rivals Google and Apple in their battle to build hubs in "smart" homes that are being furnished with appliances, electronics and other accoutrements that connect to the Internet.

Alexa is competing against other voice-controlled services such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Google's search engine that are built into the operating systems of smartphones and other devices that do more than the Echo.

The interest in smart homes appears to be rising as more people become enamoured with their smartphones. A recent online survey of more than 4,600 adults in the U.S. by Forrester Research's Technographics found 57 per cent of them either had used or were interested in using a smart home device.

Alexa, a riff on the Library of Alexandria, initially didn't do much but answer trivia questions, play music and order stuff from Amazon's website. The device's limited range raised the prospect that it might be a passing fancy or little more than a cute party trick for consumers who could afford to indulge in a curiosity like the Echo.

But the assistant has become increasingly versatile as Amazon.com Inc. learned more about what customers want. Last summer, the company gave outside programmers the ability to build applications that work with Alexa in a move that expanded service's skillset. Alexa can now perform more than 300 tasks, such as hailing car rides, turning on lights and controlling home thermostats.

The Echo now ranks among Seattle-based Amazon's top-selling items in consumer electronics, although the company hasn't specified how many have been sold so far. "The response has been nothing short of incredible," boasted David Limp, Amazon's senior vice-president of devices.

The 6.25-inch Amazon Tap is a slimmed down "grab and go" version of the 9.25-inch Echo that sells for $130. Unlike the Echo, the Amazon Tap doesn't need to be plugged in.

To conserve battery power, however, the Tap requires people to touch a button on the front of the device to prompt Alexa to awaken and listen for a question or a command. The Echo operates on more energy-intensive technology that allows people to summon Alexa with spoken words that can be heard from as far as 25 feet away. The Tap connects to the Internet through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals.

The Echo Dot, priced at $90, represents Amazon's attempt to expand Alexa's household presence beyond the kitchen or another room where the Echo typically remains anchored.

The Dot is shaped like a hockey puck because it doesn't have cylinder with a large speaker. Instead, it offers an option for people to plug into other sound systems to provide better audio than the speaker built into the Echo. Interactions with Alexa through the Dot can be started with a voice command from across the room, just like the Echo.

Both devices can be ordered on Amazon.com beginning Thursday. Anyone can buy the Tap, but sales of the Dot initially are being confined to Amazon Prime subscribers who have already bought an Echo or the company's Fire TV device. Shipments will begin by the end of March.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Gorillas, monkeys and lemurs among primates facing extinction, report says

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Gorillas, monkeys, lemurs and other primates are in danger of becoming extinct, and scientists say it's our fault our closest living relatives are in trouble, a new international study warns. About 60 per cent of the more than 500 primate species are "now threatened with extinction" and three out of four primate species have shrinking populations, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. Source
  • Will he be extradited? All eyes on Assange after Manning clemency

    Tech & Science CBC News
    President Barack Obama's decision to commute Chelsea Manning's sentence has brought fresh attention to another figure involved in the Army leaker's case: Julian Assange. On Twitter last week, Assange's anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks posted, "If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case. Source
  • Ambulance dispatchers say they're getting electrical jolts through their headsets

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Workers at an ambulance dispatch centre in Hamilton say they are enduring electric shocks at work, but say their employer isn't taking their complaints about it seriously enough. Dispatchers say they have been jolted through their headsets at their electronic workstations, where they receive emergency 9-1-1 calls and dispatch paramedics. Source
  • World's primates facing extinction crisis, new report says

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Gorillas, monkeys, lemurs and other primates are in danger of becoming extinct, and scientists say it's our fault that our closest living relatives are in trouble, a new international study warns. About 60 per cent of the more than 500 primate species are "now threatened with extinction" and 3 out of 4 primate species have shrinking populations, according to a study published in Wednesday's journal Science Advances. Source
  • Binational report: Laws needed to protect Great Lakes from farm runoff

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TORONTO -- Voluntary measures to protect the Great Lakes from farm manure have proven insufficient and governments should now turn their minds to legislation, a binational report released Wednesday concludes. While the issue is of concern everywhere except Lake Superior, the problem is especially acute in Lake Erie, where out-of-control algae growth has created dead zones. Source
  • Is this the not-so-magical explanation for Africa's strange 'fairy circles'?

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The forces behind the mysterious "fairy circles" that dot a desert in southern Africa do not appear to be supernatural, but they are intricate and complex. The formations are circles of land dozens of feet wide that create a stunning pattern in the Namib desert and have mystified locals and scientists for ages. Source
  • Sleeping man wakened by heat and flames from Samsung S5 phone

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A Toronto man says he woke up to "massive flames shooting out the sides" of his Samsung S5 phone on Tuesday morning. Mario Jakab went to bed around midnight on Tuesday, and woke up from the heat and firework-like sounds coming from his bedside table. Source
  • Edmonton mechanic creates finger-saving wedding band

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Ken Rice knows a wedding band can cost you your finger. When thrusting his grease-covered hands under the hoods of trucks and cars, the Edmonton mechanic has to be careful not to snag his titanium ring on any moving parts. Source
  • Climate change means more 'mild days' ahead for Canada, study suggests

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Research suggests climate change could increase the number of nice days Canadians enjoy. Most global warming studies have focused on extreme weather or broad-scale averages of temperature and precipitation. But Karin van der Wiel, of New Jersey's Princeton University, said that's not how people will experience their new circumstances. Source
  • CIA's declassified documents: Highlights of the 13 million pages out now

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Secret messages. Psychic experiments. UFO sightings. CTVNews.ca plunged into the heart of the Central Intelligence Agency archives (read: one writer browsed declassified files online), to dredge up the weirdest and wildest highlights from 13 million pages of declassified documents. Source