September 22, 2023
Amazon announced a wide range of compelling news at its annual Devices and Services event this week. The company is adding artificial intelligence to its virtual assistant Alexa and unveiled next-generation Echo Frames smart glasses that let you take the voice assistant “on the go.” AI also provides “enhanced conversational voice search” with the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max. The company’s eero Max 7 Wi-Fi system and new Echo Hub are also stand-outs from the holiday shopping primer, which streamed live from Amazon’s new corporate compound in Arlington, Virginia, ahead of Prime Big Deal Days, October 10-11.
Engadget calls the new AI chat mode “Alexa’s biggest update yet,” and says it “makes the assistant more conversational and expressive.” Those who enroll in Amazon’s Visual ID program will be able to “start a conversation just by facing the screen on an Echo device with a camera,” using “Eye Gaze Mode,” Engadget adds, describing how “Alexa can now adjust its tone and ‘emotion’ based on context.”
Amazon’s Fall Devices briefing (available for replay on video and blog) says Alexa AI is optimized for voice instructions for “efficient smart home control, and maximizing their home entertainment,” adding that it aimed to improve the device’s “ability to reason, infer customer intent, and understand complex requests,” though at the moment, only for U.S. customers.
While Reuters offers a withering take that couches Amazon as playing “catch up” on AI, The Wall Street Journal is impressed, writing that Amazon’s push to generative AI on the consumer front “isn’t a cute test like it might be for some companies,” but an attempt to engage “in a fresh way at a key entry point into its business empire.”
Alexa’s AI upgrade includes:
- Real-time Call Translation in more than 10 languages. The feature will also be available to Echo Show and Alexa mobile app users in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
- Emergency Assistance in the form of hands-free access when you’ve fallen and can’t get up (with a premium, paid subscription service coming later this year).
- Sports Viewing Auto Initiation for routine tune-ins to team favorites “across college and professional sports leagues, including the NFL, WNBA, MLS and MLB” for starters.
- Admin Assist for things like managing the family calendar and emailing invites or photos.
- AI Art: By year’s end, customers will be able to instruct Alexa to display generative AI artwork using the Fire TV Stick 4K Max (and the new Fire TV “Ambient Experience”).
The new $60 UltraHD 4K Fire Stick supports Dolby Vision, HDR, HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos. Amazon calls it an industry-first for Wi-Fi 6E, which means customers with 6E-compatible routers can enjoy a turbo experience. In that lucky club are purchasers of Amazon’s new $600 eero Max 7 router, which Engadget writes can “download a 4K movie in just 10 seconds.”
Echo Frames debuted in 2019, allowing wearers to make calls and use Alexa voice commands without taking out their phone. Tom’s Guide highlights the main improvements, which include wireless charging and longer battery life. Thinner and lighter than the originals, they list for $270.
The next gen Alexa-powered Echo Show 8 has a 13-megapixel camera for improved video calling plus audio that minimizes background noise as well as spatial audio. Computer vision adapts the size of on-screen content based user proximity. The $149 device features “a built in smart home hub.” New is an Echo Hub wall-mounted smart home control system for $179.