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Amazon has new tech chops: Alexa powered by generative AI and a new array of devices and features

This year, the focus mainly has been on giving Alexa, the company’s smart assistant, more power through AI boost. Here are snapshots from the launch

Mathures Paul Published 22.09.23, 01:09 PM
The new generation Amazon Echo Show 8 comes with a centred camera and a slightly different shape to its large speaker prism in the back

The new generation Amazon Echo Show 8 comes with a centred camera and a slightly different shape to its large speaker prism in the back Picture: Amazon

Every year, Amazon holds a “Devices and Services” event to introduce new gadgets and software. This year, the focus mainly has been on giving Alexa, the company’s smart assistant, more power through AI boost. Here are snapshots from the launch.

Alexa meets
powerful AI

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For years we have been interacting with Alexa, asking about the weather, playing simple games and coming up with simple poems. In the era of ChatGPT, Alexa may have lost some of its glory. All that is about to change with Alexa LLM.

Digital assistants have always had an AI element but there was no complexity involved… at least not the level of complexity that’s available in 2023. Alexa will be able to handle more human-like interactions and that will prove to be a big moment for the smart home.

Soon, customers in the US will be able to preview some of the capabilities enabled by generative AI by saying “Alexa, let’s chat” to Echo devices they already own. And it’s good that Amazon is taking time to release a well-tuned product than experiencing the missteps of Microsoft and Google.

Fire TV Soundbar is small but powerful

Fire TV Soundbar is small but powerful

Alexa will become more conversational, understand what you say and will not need you to be specific to get a task done. At the moment you have to repeat certain things to make Alexa work. When a phrase like ‘Alexa, I’m cold’ is uttered, the digital assistant should be able to control the temperature on the connected thermostat. There will be ways to combine multiple requests, like “Alexa, close all the blinds, turn off all the lights, and start the vacuum.”

APIs are important in this context and there will be a large number of them connected to the LLM. It will give Alexa the context needed to manage your smart home.

Developers will be able to take advantage of Alexa’s new cognitive functions. There are two new tools that are coming to Alexa to control certain unique features of third-party manufacturer products — Dynamic Controller and Action Controller. Dynamic Controller will allow features like prebuilt scenes for lighting control to be surfaced more naturally.

Action Controller allows developers to add simple actions that Alexa can act on. For example, saying, “Alexa, the floor is dirty” will start the robot vacuum. Amazon is working with GE Cync, Philips, GE Appliances, iRobot, Roborock, and Xiaomi to bring these experiences to life.

Alexa is getting more powers. Later this year, Alexa will be able to detect the brightness level and activity in a room, and intelligently decide to turn the lights on or off. You no longer need to walk into a dark room and search for a light switch — or even ask Alexa to do it for you. Select Echo devices with motion and ambient light sensors will also support this feature soon, including the Echo Dot (5th Gen).

Another new feature is Eye Gaze, which will help support customers with mobility or speech disabilities to use Alexa with their eyes. Instead of using voice or touch. Eye gaze on Alexa will allow customers to gaze at their tablet to perform pre-set Alexa actions, like playing music and shows, controlling their home environment, and even communicating with loved ones — entirely hands- and voice-free. Eye Gaze will start rolling out to customers later this year on Fire Max 11 tablets in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan.

There’s more — Call Translation. Your Alexa audio and video calls can be captioned in real-time, allowing deaf and hard of hearing customers to communicate remotely more easily. This feature will launch to Echo Show customers, and on the Alexa mobile app in the US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain later this year.

Echo Show 8

Here comes the third generation of Echo Show 8 with edge-to-edge glass, a centred camera, and a slightly different shape to its large speaker prism in the back. There is spatial audio and there is the ability to sense the acoustics of a room to make the sound match the surroundings.

Echo Frames will give you more than six hours of continuous media playback

Echo Frames will give you more than six hours of continuous media playback

There’s a smart home hub built in too. And big changes are coming to the screen: how much information that is shown will be based on how close you are to the device. A customer positioned across the room will see content that is easily viewed from a distance — such as a simplified news headline — with the screen automatically transitioning to a more detailed view as they approach the device.

Echo Frames

If you need to use Alexa anywhere, the Echo Frames smart glasses will help. These will give you more than six hours of continuous media playback (through the speakers in the temples) or talk time (through the built-in mics) on a single charge. A redesigned open-ear audio architecture and new custom-built speakers deliver three times more bass than the previous generation, and more accurately direct sound to customers’ ears, while minimising outside noise.

Echo Pop Kids

This has immense potential, thanks to the colourful options that are available. Instead of the rounded animal design, the hemispherical speaker has been reimagined by Amazon’s partnership with Disney. You can choose from Marvel Avengers or Disney Princesses themes for the design.

Fire TV Stick 4K and 4K Max

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd Gen) is the first streaming media player to come with the Fire TV Ambient Experience, and features an upgraded 2.0 GHz quad-core processor, making it Amazon’s smartest and most powerful streaming stick yet. It includes support for Wi-Fi 6E, features vibrant 4K Ultra HD, and support for Dolby Vision, HDR, HDR10+, and immersive Dolby Atmos audio; and comes with 16GB of storage. The Fire TV Stick 4K (2nd Gen) has support for Wi-Fi 6 and features an updated 1.7 GHZ quad-core processor. You will be able to enjoy vibrant 4K Ultra HD picture quality and immersive Dolby Atmos audio with support for Dolby Vision, HDR, HLG, and HDR10+.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd Gen) is the first streaming media player to come with the Fire TV Ambient Experience

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd Gen) is the first streaming media player to come with the Fire TV Ambient Experience

Fire TV Soundbar

Everyone needs a soundbar because even the best of smart TVs can’t produce great sound. The small 24-inch rounded rectangle comes with HDMI ARC so your TV remote will work to control the bar. The new two-channel Fire TV Soundbar has support for DTS Virtual:X and Dolby Audio.

Ring Stick Up Cam Pro comes with radar sensors

Ring Stick Up Cam Pro comes with radar sensors

Ring Stick Up Cam Pro

The big new feature? The addition of radar sensors will help with detecting motion. You’ll be able to set specific areas for the Stick Up Cam Pro to watch for motion, beefing up your security needs. This new indoor/outdoor camera comes in three power options (battery, plug-in, solar), has Advanced Pre-Roll and Amazon has added Audio+, which delivers big sounds thanks to two array microphones, with echo cancellation and a security siren.

Eero Max 7

It has both Zigbee and Thread routers built in. The two 10GB ethernet ports will be capable of wired speeds up to 9.4 Gbps and the router will support up to 200 devices connected at once. It’s now possible to download a 4K movie in 10 seconds or a 50GB video game in less than a minute.

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