The many faces of Amazon Alexa: Cars, speakers, robots and everything else
If 2017’s CES has been about anything – other than inappropriately giving all your white goods touch screens to tweet from – it’s been about putting Amazon’s Alexa in everything.
Amazon clearly doesn’t see a future where Alexa is confined to a Bluetooth speaker. Instead, the online retail giant has opened its smart voice assistant to be used in a whole slew of products. The only limit, seemingly, is third party imagination.
Here are some of the more interesting products to launch powered-by the friendly assistant.
Huawei Mate 9
The Huawei Mate 9 is one of the biggest phones available. It’s the first Huawei phone to launch with Android Nougat and – in the US – will be the first phone to launch with Alexa on board. While it’s hard to fathom why exactly Alexa is there instead of Google Assistant, it’s certainly an intriguing move by Huawei and Amazon.
- Huawei Mate 9 review: The big-screen boss
By the sounds of it, this partnership will go beyond just pre-installing an app on Huawei phones. The Chinese manufacturer wants its phones to slot in to Amazon’s ever-growing ecosystem-web of products. A statement read “Huawei and Amazon will collaborate to develop rich voice activated consumer experiences for mobile users.”
Ford drivers with Sync 3 in their car dashboards will be open to a full suite of Alexa functions later this year. Users will be able to give any voice commands through the centre console of their car. That means if you’ve forgotten to close your garage, lock your doors or switch off your lights, you can do it without having to turn back and drive home.
The Alexa integration will also play nice with Sync 3’s built-in navigation system, so you can ask Alexa for nearby points of interest, restaurants and stores, then ask it to navigate there. Of course, it can read you Audible audio books and add stuff to your Amazon shopping list too.
The downside to this is that the full Alexa in-car update isn’t arriving until later in 2017, at some point in the summer. Before then, however, you will be able to use your Amazon Echo, Dot and Tap to connect to your car.
Lenovo Smart Assistant
If you ever looked at the Amazon Echo and wished it was a little prettier and better sounding, the Lenovo Smart Assistant is for you. It’s got a similar tall cylindrical design, but with added chrome trim at the top and a more attractive fabric covering over the bottom half.
- Lenovo Smart Assistant preview: Transformers, Alexa in disguise
You can use it exactly the same way you’d use an Echo, and choose from a handful of different colour combinations. You’re not just stuck to plain black or plain white. It will cost $129 (around £105) when it launches in May 2017, and if you want better audio, you’ll be able to pick up the Harman Kardon version for $179 (roughly £145).
GE table lamp
GE showed off a cool-looking smart table lamp at CES which – similar to the Lenovo Smart Assistant – takes Alexa and places it inside a more attractive shell. It’s essentially another Echo replacement, that’s also a light. You won’t need an Echo to work it when it launches later this year.
- Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Getting a grip on Alexa
The light itself is a halo-style affair, with a solid cylinder base at the bottom which acts as the stand and the loudspeaker.
This ring is made up of two light strips. The outer ring is the main white light, while the inner blue ring is the one which denotes when Alexa is being activated, similar to the ring of light around the outside of the Amazon Echo speaker.
This is the Lynx robot by a company called Ubtech, which is essentially an Amazon Echo speaker built in to a plastic humanoid. While it can take your usual Alexa commands and requests, it can also be controlled via an app to walk around, capture video footage and take photos.
Unlike the Echo, however, the Lynx can be taught to recognise individual people and – using a program – play greetings and music based on who is interacting with it. As well as being able to play music, set reminders, manage tasks and edit calendar entries, the robot can follow you and be used to make video calls.
The Lynx will be available to purchase later in 2017, sometime in spring.
Lots of TVs
Seiki, Westinghouse Electronics and Element Electronics will all release large, flat-screen 4K UHD smart TVs running Amazon’s Fire TV user interface later this year.
The three companies fall under the umbrella of Tongfang Global and will release 43, 50, 55 and 65-inch TV sets, each sporting 3,840 by 2,160 resolution panels. Each also comes loaded with the latest version of the Amazon Fire TV user interface out of the box. With that comes the ability to use voice control and Alexa.
- Amazon Echo: What can Alexa do and what services are compatible?
Not only can you search for TV shows and apps with the voice assistant, but you can also set up Alexa to control all the other compatible smart connected products in your house.
Sadly no pricing has been announced, but we do know that they’ll be available through Best Buy and Amazon in the States.
These Bluetooth earphones
If you’ve watched Her, starring Jaoquin Phoenix, and since longed for the day where you could form a deep relationship with a digital assistant in an earphone, Onvocal has the closest solution.
Sadly, this isn’t an elegant single-ear solution. Rather, the OV headphones from Onvocal have a chunky plastic collar with earphones attached by cable. There’s a hands-free mic for taking calls, but also for summoning Alexa. They also have the ability to adjust how much ambient noise you have coming through, with an automatic music dimming system in chat mode.
The important thing here is that Alexa is built right into the earphones. You can pre-order the OV for $399 (around £320) from Onvocal’s direct channel, and orders should make their way out in January 2017.
Omaker WoW speaker
Another direct replacement for the Echo, but one that doesn’t just look exactly the same. Rather, it seems to take its styling more from the smaller Sonos speakers.
The Omaker WoW uses a two microphone system to detect voice commands and has far field technology built in, just like the Echo. That means you can talk to it from the other side other room and it should still pick up your voice.
While its Alexa-powered-ness means it can connect to music services like TunedIn, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Tidal, it also works as an AirPlay, DLNA and Spotify Connect speaker. It supports audio streaming from the cloud, NAS, USB disk/TF cards and third party apps as well as standard wired and wireless connectivity.
LG has built Amazon’s service in to its latest refrigerator. Because you always wanted to tell your fridge to dim the lights and play some John Legend while you poured Prosecco for two.
The fridge door has a 29-inch touchscreen built in to it that reveals what’s inside and whether anything is coming close to its “use by” or “best before” dates. It does this using a wide angle camera inside, and lets you check the status from your phone if you want to.
Lots more cars (in the future)
Inrix is a company name you’re perhaps not familiar with, but it’s responsible for serving data to connected cars from manufacturers like Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Porsche among others. Its plan is to integrate Alexa into its OpenCar platform, which manufacturers can then use and adapt it with their own infotainment systems to be built in to their car dashboard consoles.
From the second half of 2017, drivers who have OpenCar enabled vehicles will be able to access services through Alexa, pretty much the same way Ford announced they would be in its cars.
Not only will you be able to make the usual Alexa commands, you can connect to your car from your home using an Echo product. You could, for instance, ask your Echo for navigation to a specific location, then have it send the navigation instructions to your car’s built-in system before you get in and get going.