23 July 2019
An AmazonBasics Microwave sits on display during an unveiling event in Seattle on September 20. Amazon has outlined its ambitions for the smart-homes market by announcing a slew of new Alexa-enabled products. Photo: Bloomberg
An AmazonBasics Microwave sits on display during an unveiling event in Seattle on September 20. Amazon has outlined its ambitions for the smart-homes market by announcing a slew of new Alexa-enabled products. Photo: Bloomberg

Amazon aims high in smart-home market

Amazon’s business plans have one basic underlying theme: integration of technology into people’s everyday life. After helping bring about a dramatic change in the way we shop, the Seattle-based tech giant now wants to prod us into turning our homes “smart”. 

The company last week made its ambitions clear as it announced a range of new home devices and services that can be operated through the Alexa voice-recognition virtual assistant tool.

The Alexa-enabled products include a microwave, an amplifier and a clock, among other offerings, signaling Amazon’s big plans for the connected device and smart-home market.

Let’s take a look at the microwave, which is very significant as it marks Amazon’s first-ever kitchen appliance.

The AmazonBasics microwave, which will cost just US$60 and start shipping in November, can connect to the Internet through WiFi and take commands through the Alexa voice assistant.

The kitchen gadget can translate voice requests into cooking actions. In a demo at an event on Sept. 20, a user pressed a button on the microwave to activate Alexa, and then told it what to do, passing on commands such as “defrost a chicken”, “cook a potato”, and so on.

Also, the gadget can interface with Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service, which enables connected devices to order physical goods when supplies are running low, for example popcorn.

In other connected products, there is the Amazon Echo Wall Clock that will cost US$29. The product, which looks like a normal wall clock, can link with Amazon’s Echo device and the Alexa service.

Users can “talk” to the clock to set alarm and timer functions, and the lines on the clock will illuminate as the time progresses, as TechCrunch noted.

The 10-inch clock is powered by a battery, and automatically syncs the current time, meaning that users won’t need to update the gadget for daylight savings time.

Overall, one can say it is a simple but cool product for a home, putting Alexa to use in a common household item.

In other announcements, there was an Alexa-enabled amplifier, bringing Amazon into the home entertainment system space.

As it talked about more than a dozen new Alexa-enabled devices, Amazon made it clear that it wants to capture the smart-home space, building on its experience with Echo smart speakers. 

All the new hardware unveiled last week is based on the “Alexa Connect Kit”, where a chip will be embedded in all kinds of appliances to make them Alexa compatible products. The underlying concept is to allow any manufacturer to make its products work with the Alexa system.

The launch of home appliances under the Amazon brand reflects the tech behemoth’s confidence that it can step into manufacturing in a big way to push the Alexa ecosystem.

Some market observers see Amazon’s product announcement as a wake-up call for traditional home appliance makers to incorporate Alexa into the devices. If they fail to do so, Amazon will grab the market from the traditional makers by undercutting the prices.

As it launches more AI-powered products, Amazon will learn much more about our daily habits and consumption and entertainment preferences, which will in turn help the firm roll out even more devices and services and offer a total tech solution for our homes.

It is not surprising that Amazon is stepping up focus on the smart-home space, given the potential huge rewards.

According to an estimate, the global smart-home market would be worth US$53 billion 2022, growing from the expected 2018 figure of a little above US$31 billion.

With Amazon taking an early lead in this space, it could open up a huge new revenue channel for the firm going forward, CNBC noted last week, while reporting on Amazon’s new product launches.

Among other tech biggies, Google is trying to catch up with its Google Home devices which integrate with the Google search engine to provide similar services as Amazon’s Alexa. However, there is no sign yet that Google will venture into home appliances manufacturing.

Elsewhere, China’s Xiaomi, which is a major player in smart gadgets, has started to build-in its own digital assistance into selected products as part of the smart-homes game plan.

Looking ahead, there is no doubt that the smart-homes segment will emerge as a key battlefield for technology majors around the world as connected devices and Internet of Things (IoT) become a priority.

With the deployment of 5G mobile networks, IoT will get popular as home-appliance makers will launch more connected home products for users to make use of the new technology.

One day, people will be able to control all their appliances at home through a smartphone app or by sending voice commands through virtual assistant tools and devices. For consumers, the future certainly looks exciting, with technology making things easier in many more aspects of daily life.

For those of us living in Hong Kong, what we could really do with right now is smart-home products that come with Cantonese recognition capability.

Is Amazon up to it?

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EJ Insight writer

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