You know the old saying: If you don’t like Amazon Echo’s form factors, just wait a few minutes. The company has seemingly attempted everything when it comes to getting Alexa into more homes. Some stood the test of time, while others have been lost to the sands of time. Remember the Amazon Tap? The Echo Look? What about the Echo Spot (I really liked that one), Plus and Loop? (I write about this stuff for a living, and I’d completely forgotten that the company made an Alexa Ring.) Some outlived their usefulness, some were cannibalized by different products and some never made much sense to begin with.
The release cadence appears to have slowed a bit from the years when the company was dropping Big Mouth Billy Basses on our heads, but reports of the division’s demise do appear somewhat exaggerated for the time being. This morning the company announced upgrades to existing devices and a new device in the form of the Echo Pop, a unidirectional smart speaker that occupies roughly the same space as its perennial favorite, the Echo Dot.
Products like the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini are designed to get their respective smart assistants through the door. The cost is low enough to consider buying one for the sole purpose of serving as a cheap wireless speaker. Whatever the marketing materials might say (I see the phrase “great sound” bandied about enough that it has lost all meaning), most people who buy one are under no illusion that they’re getting some premium audiophile experience ( I hope).
Once it’s in place, you might as well ask Alexa to play some music for you. And maybe a weather forecast. Oh, and that smart bulb your cousin you talk to once a year got you for Christmas — you can control that, too. Then you wake up one morning and there are 50 Echo devices in your house, including three in the bathroom.
At $40, the Pop undercuts the Dot by $10 — not an insignificant portion of the products’ overall cost. Though the company denies that the product will replace Dot and/or Dot With Clock. The Pop does, however, seem destined to cannibalize its market share. In terms of form factor, it appears as though someone bisected a Dot and propped up the directional speaker. It’s available in black, white, lavender and teal (the latter of which are both new for the line).
Between the price, form factor and colors, it seems as though Amazon is targeting a younger audience than the standard Echo fare — albeit one a bit more mature than the new Echo Show 5 Kids. Teenagers look like the primary demo, along with college kids moving into the dorm. It could be the cheapest self-contained entry point into a major smart home ecosystem. The familiar Echo Dot blue light ring has been truncated, sitting just above the speaker mesh to let you know when Alexa is listening. The Pop runs on Amazon’s own AZ2 chip and features built-in Eero support, which lets it double as a range extender.
The Pop was announced this morning alongside a spate of product refreshes, including updates to Echo Show 5, Echo Buds and Echo Auto. Sarah spoke to SVP Rohit Prasad about Alexa’s future, in light of a recent round of 2,000 people from the company’s device’s division. “Contrary to some of the things written, it was very small in context,” the exec said. “In terms of our roadmap and our conviction, Alexa is one of the biggest investments at Amazon and our conviction has only grown — especially in this time of how exciting AI is and what can be a quantitatively different, better, and more useful Alexa for our customers.”
Generative AI was, naturally, top of mind, with all of the recent hype around systems like ChatGPT and Bard. Amazon has already discussed its own work in the space, and its easy to see how conversational prompts can push Alexa in the future. But it also arrives at a point when the smart assistant appears to be struggling from the outside. “I’m very optimistic that…the AI advances will be massive, but we are actually contributing to the Amazon businesses,” Prasad adds. “And I believe that Alexa is well on its trajectory to be that personal AI — which will also be a successful business for us.”