5 lessons from Amazon’s head-spinning, head-splitting Alexa fiesta

Amazon event stage
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

I feel like I have a hangover, and it’s not because of the glass of wine I sipped at happy hour yesterday. It’s because I attended Amazon’s surprise devices announcement at The Spheres in Seattle.

Why so glum, you ask? Well, in the course of 80 minutes, the online tech giant introduced 12 new devices (13 if you include Ring’s new security camera) along with a dizzying array of software announcements. I was sitting in about the seventh row, yet I could barely keep up with the barrage of tech news being hurled at me faster than ice-packed snowballs.

Did I mention that I have a headache today?

There was a stark difference between Amazon’s event and Apple’s event last week, where Apple CEO Tim Cook and friends spoke for two hours, using words like “stunning” a lot and introducing four devices — three of them being phones.

Amazon’s event, while thankfully devoid of Apple’s “we’re awesome” talk, overwhelmed me in a different way because of the sheer number and variety of new devices they introduced (here’s a complete list). While I’m still nursing my Amazon hangover, here are some musings on yesterday’s event and what was announced.

Amazon’s event was a lot like its website

Think about shopping on Amazon. You start with the search field, type something in, and then get, like, a million results. And that’s only a slight exaggeration. Then you have to dig through reviews, Q&As, and product specs to narrow down your choices and figure it out.

That’s how yesterday’s event felt for me and other members of the media, except minus the search field. It was a deluge of information to decipher and choose from. What’s exciting? What’s interesting? What’s important? I still don’t know. I’ll tell you when my hangover is over and I unpack the pages of press releases I was given.

Amazon is throwing a lot to the wall to see what sticks

From a smart plug to a DVR system, it almost felt like a bunch of Amazon employees sat in an open-concept apartment and said, “What can we add Alexa to?” While many of the new devices seem like bonafide additions or improvements (we’re talking about the Echo Sub here), others seem like experiments, like the AmazonBasics microwave or the $30 wall clock that works with Alexa. But Amazon has the money, so why not? It’ll be interesting to see how those devices sell.

Amazon has gotten very serious about music

Amazon clearly heard the chorus of complaints about sound quality in its Echo speakers. Prior to yesterday, the best-sounding Alexa speaker wasn’t even an Echo device — it was the Sonos One speaker with Alexa voice built in.

Amazon changed all of that yesterday with the introduction of the Echo Sub, Link and Link Amp as part of a new multi-room audio system. It also vastly improved the sound of the existing Echo lineup by introducing a new Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Echo Plus with much improved sound quality. We can’t wait to take a more thorough listen of the devices to see how they fare against the competition, but one thing’s for sure: You don’t have to suffer through tinny music with the new Echo Dot.

We can expect a lot more voice assistant technology in the future

Amazon put Alexa into most of the stuff it announced yesterday, like the wall clock. We keep mentioning the wall clock, because, well, it’s a wall clock.

In case this isn’t obvious: You should expect more Alexa, Google Assistant, and even Siri everywhere in the coming years. Voice assistant technology is here to stay, and we’re going to see it in unconventional places like ceiling fans, heater vents, perhaps even toothbrushes or clothing.

It might be so built into our home decor that speakers as we know them could become obsolete. We’re talking about screens, cameras, microphones and speakers built directly into the walls, like in the book Fahrenheit 451.

In my cloudy-headed delirium, I don’t know if this makes me very excited or very scared. I think both.

Amazon wants Alexa to rule the world. Or at least the home. Maybe the car, too.

Alexa has already gone way beyond speakers. You can buy third-party light switches, thermostats, mirrors, refrigerators, and even smoke detectors that are also Alexa speakers.

Yesterday, Amazon took this trend a step further by introducing a microwave that works with Alexa, as well Amazon Auto, a device that lets you talk to Alexa in your car. You know, because God forbid you and Alexa ever take a break from each other.

Pretty soon we’ll all be talking to our Alexa-enabled walls, dishwashers, and garage doors. Coming next year from Amazon: a smart talking toilet seat. What’s after that? An Alexa-enabled nuclear bomb? I really hope not, as that doesn’t sound very safe.

On a lighter note, someone in our office suggested that Amazon build a smart kegerator. I’m passing on the suggestion, as soon as I myself a little hair-of-the-dog from our office kegerator.

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