Amazon is planning a new version of its popular Echo smart speaker, according to a report by Bloomberg. Scheduled for a possible 2020 release, the new model is said to be larger than the current version, with more internal speaker components, yet it will still retain the Echo’s distinctive cylindrical shape. The smart speaker category has become highly competitive since Amazon launched the first version of the Echo in 2015, with new entries from both high-tech companies like Apple and Google, as well as brands that hail from the traditional audio market, such as JBL and Sonos.
The current Echo and Echo Plus now sit between inexpensive, yet small smart speakers like its own Echo Dot, and the Google Home Mini, and larger, more expensive models like Apple’s HomePod, the Google Home Max, and the Sonos One. It’s these larger, better-sounding smart speakers that Amazon is likely targeting with a revamped Echo, given that listening to music is among the most popular smart speaker-based activities. In fact, it’s so popular that Amazon Music was recently credited with being the fastest growing streaming music service — largely on the strength of its Echo product line, which is configured to use Amazon Music out of the box, and the free tier of Amazon Music it launched in April 2019.
To make a dent in this higher-end side of the smart speaker market, Amazon is going to have to create a speaker that sounds significantly better than the current $100 Echo, while being mindful that the Sonos One, at $200, is not only an excellent speaker, it also gives users the ability to pick their preferred voice assistant. Users can choose either Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, making the Sonos One and Sonos Beam, the only smart speaker products to do so. Apple’s $300 HomePod, while a solid performer in the audio department, represents less of a threat given that it is only compatible with Apple’s Siri, and currently only supports Apple Music. Echo products offer a variety of music services, as does Sonos. Current Echo users can supplement the low-end of their device’s audio performance by adding a $130 Echo Sub.
If the new Echo speaker is a genuine heavy-hitter as far as audio quality goes, it could be a sign that Amazon is indeed going to add a higher-quality tier to its Amazon Music Unlimited service, which would compete with Tidal and Quobuz. Offering that higher tier to buyers of the new Echo speaker at no additional cost could be a very attractive offer for fans of hi-res music.
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