Pebble’s clip-on Core will tap into Amazon Alexa for voice assistance smarts

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It isn’t news that Pebble, the company behind one of Kickstarter’s most successful crowdfunding campaigns in history, is rolling a few new wearables off the proverbial (and literal) assembly line. But what is news is that one of them, the clip-on Core, is getting voice assistance features courtesy of Amazon. In a blog post on Thursday, Pebble announced that the Core will ship with Amazon’s Alexa technology on board.

Alexa is basically unfettered on the Core, which is to say it can interpret most, if not all, of the commands available on Amazon’s dedicated Echo devices. You can shuffle the songs and albums of your favorite artists from Amazon Prime Music and iHeart Radio; get a daily news briefing from The Washington Post and NPR; buy stuff from Amazon; get weather and traffic updates; control smart home appliances like lights, thermostats, and locks; and set timers and reminders. But in addition, you can perform the many tasks made possible by third-party apps — “Skills,” in Amazon’s vernacular — that crafty developers have so far created. Want delivery from Domino’s? Ask Alexa to order the usual. Need an Uber in the next few minutes? Tell Alexa to summon a nearby driver.

How is Alexa integration going to work on the Core, exactly? Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky didn’t dive into the technical details, but made sure to point out that the Core is the first stand-alone wearable to tap into Alexa’s powerful linguistic capabilities. That’s made possible, he said, by the Core’s connectivity: It packs a 3G SIM slot that provides the data connection Alexa needs to function independent of a paired smartphone.

“Experiencing Amazon Alexa on-the-go right from Pebble Core is game-changing for wearable technology,” Migicovsky said in press release. “We’re longtime fans of the powerful voice services Alexa delivers, and it only gets smarter and more useful over time. It’s an approach we embrace with our own products.”

“The integration of Amazon Alexa into Pebble Core is exciting to see,” said Amazon’s Alexa chief Steve Rabuchin. “By making Alexa Voice Services available for free to device makers and developers, we knew there would be no limit to the innovative uses.”

The $69 Core is set to start shipping in “early 2017,” and features music streaming via Spotify Premium plus GPS tracking, Qi wireless charging, and a dedicated button for launching Pebble apps. It, along with the Pebble 2 and Time 2 smartwatches, is part of a new Pebble Kickstarter effort that’s scheduled to conclude in June. By the looks of it, it’s already a quantifiable success: the Redwood City, California-based company’s raised about $10 million with 27 days to go as of publication time, far and beyond its $1 million goal.

Alexa integration’s a big win for Amazon. At tech blog Recode’s Code Conference in San Francisco, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos revealed the the retail giant’s voice intelligence ambitions extended far beyond its first-party Echo hardware. The company has recruited more than 1,000 software engineers to fine-tune Alexa’s software, Bezos said in an interview with Recode’s Walt Mossberg, and that the company has been fine-tuning artificial intelligence algorithms for four years. “There’s so much more to come. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Amazon’s open development approach to Alexa’s already begun to manifest in interesting ways. Chinese company iMCO’s upcoming CoWatch smartwatch leverages Alexa for voice commands. Roger, Lexi, and other voice assistant apps for iOS and Android devices use Alexa to handle their own sets of voice-driven interactions. And Amazon has encouraged enterprising developers to create their own Alexa hardware with kits like the Raspberry Pi.

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