Amazon announces a range of new products including Airpods competitor, Echo Buds

Amazon kicked off its annual hardware event on Wednesday where it unveiled several new Echo devices, alongside new Alexa capabilities.
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Dave Limp, senior vice president for Amazon devices & services, talks about Echo Buds, the tech company's new wireless earbuds product on Sept. 25, 2019, at an event in Seattle.Ted S. Warren / AP

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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Annie Palmer, CNBC and Todd Haselton, CNBC

Amazon announced more than a dozen new Alexa-enabled products at its annual hardware event in Seattle on Wednesday.

There was no clear unifying theme behind the hardware devices announced, which range from new Echo assistants to wireless voice-activated earbuds to an Alexa-enabled oven (for the second year in a row).

But by throwing many ideas into the market and seeing what sticks, Amazon hopes to spread key homegrown technologies, such as Alexa and Sidewalk, a newly announced wireless technology that promises longer range than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Amazon also showed off new Alexa capabilities, such as a multilingual mode and new ways to add it to smart security devices.

The company launched a $199 Echo Studio, which is bigger than previous models and features improved speakers, alongside a new $99 Echo.Todd Haselton / CNBC

It’s still unclear how exactly Amazon’s hardware devices help the company’s bottom line. While hardware devices are consistently the bestselling products on Amazon, the company does not disclose how much revenue they generate.

It’s also uncertain whether Amazon’s hardware devices lead to more shopping on its site. Amazon Senior Vice President Dave Limp said in a June interview with CNBC that Alexa isn’t necessarily used for more purchases yet but that it is prompting users to buy more things online, such as music or audiobook subscriptions.

Here’s a rundown of everything that was announced.

An AirPods competitor and a slew of Echoes

The company announced a whole slew of updates to the Echo line, the product that first popularized Alexa in the home. Amazon continues to have a foothold in the smart speaker space, controlling 70% of the market, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. However, rivals such as Google are catching up.

To bring Alexa mobile outside the home, Amazon announced a competitor to Apple’s AirPods called the Echo Buds. The $129 earbuds have Alexa built into them and feature five hours of battery life, as well as noise cancellation technology from Bose.

The most notable new Echo was the $199 Echo Studio, which is bigger than previous models and features high-quality speakers that enable 3D sound, with help from Dolby Atmos. The device is similar conceptually to Apple’s HomePod, which focuses on audio quality.

Amazon unveiled several new Echo devices, alongside new Alexa capabilities, at its annual hardware event on Sept. 25, 2019.Todd Haselton / CNBC

A revamped $99 Echo comes with updated speakers and in a range of new colors, and a new Echo Show 8 video calling device offers a bigger 8-inch screen and more powerful audio.

There’s also a new version of the inexpensive Echo Dot, which starts at $59 and includes an LED display with a clock underneath the device’s fabric casing.

The most visually arresting device presented today was probably the Echo Glow, a bedside “companion.”

The $30 device is targeted for kids and lets them tap the top of the device, causing it to cycle through a range of bright colors. It pairs with Alexa, so that users can set timers, play music and turn on “campfire” mode.

There’s also a new device called the Echo Flex that’s meant to give users a cheap way to extend Alexa into every room of the house. The $25 device is essentially a tiny speaker equipped with a USB port for phone charging, a switch to mute Alexa and motion sensors, and a night light.

Wireless devices

The home Wi-Fi router Eero is getting its first big update since Amazon bought the company earlier this year. The new Eero is designed for easier setup than before and is updated with new technology that Amazon promises will give users “whole-home WiFi coverage.” It starts at $99 for a single device, or $249.99 for a 3-pack, both of which are available for preorder today.

The company also announced a new wireless technology called Sidewalk, which will use the 900mHz wireless band to let users control their home devices at a longer range than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth allows — for example, from outside the home.

Experimental stuff

Following in the footsteps of last year’s event, Amazon launched another Alexa-equipped smart device for the kitchen. The company is launching a $249 smart oven that’s equipped with convection cooking and an air fryer. Users can also scan packaged food items from the Alexa app, which will trigger the oven to start cooking.

Amazon said users receive a free Echo Dot with every purchase of a smart oven.

There’s also a new device called Fetch that will attach to a dog’s collar, allowing the owner to track it.

The company took the wraps off two new “Day1” products, which are items that are still under development at Amazon.

Echo Frames are prescription glasses that feature two built-in microphones for Alexa commands but no cameras or display, unlike augmented reality glasses from companies such as Microsoft and Magic Leap.

There’s also the Echo Loop, which is meant to provide what Limp called “snackable” notifications.

Improving Alexa

In addition to new hardware, Amazon also revealed new Alexa features, including “doorbell concierge,” which adds the voice assistant to Ring smart doorbells. The update makes Alexa more conversational when interacting with people at a user’s front door, including asking if it can “take a message” or telling a deliveryman where to leave a package.

Another new Alexa feature uses AI to mimic celebrity voices. For 99 cents, users can select the voice of a celebrity such as actor Samuel L. Jackson to tell them the weather, set alarms and play music. The feature is set to roll out later this year.

Amazon also announced two new updates to Alexa Hunches, which makes suggestions based on your daily behavior. One update will allow Alexa to remind users if a battery needs to be replaced or if printer cartridges are running low on ink, while another update brings Hunches to Alexa routines, so that it suggests alarms, weather alerts and other information based on a user’s habits.

Eugene Kim, CNBC contributed.