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AI-Enabled Features in Amazon Echo Products Point to the Future of UX

AI-Enabled Features in Amazon Echo Products Point to the Future of UX

The News: Amazon unveiled a crush of new Alexa-enabled devices at its fall 2023 Devices & Services event, updating its Echo, Fire TV, Fire tablet, eero, and Blink product lines. Amazon also seized the opportunity to provide a sense of both progress and vision regarding the current state and future of Alexa as an increasingly touchless and intuitive AI-powered interface. The newest AI-enabled features in Amazon’s Echo products are especially interesting to dig into when mapping the growing importance of Alexa and generative AI in Amazon devices’ user experience (UX) design. You can read more about the latest Echo product line announcements on the Amazon website.

AI-Enabled Features in Amazon Echo Products Point to the Future of UX

Analyst Take: Because Amazon’s Echo line of Alexa-enabled devices represents a critical touchpoint layer in the company’s smart home ecosystem, this year’s Echo announcements tell a lot about just how much Amazon is betting on Alexa to grow into its core user interface platform moving forward. The most obvious UX shift looks like a hard turn toward intuitive, proactive, hands-free experiences that do not just react to users’ needs and prompts but actively anticipates them. I will write separately about how Alexa is evolving across all of Amazon’s AI-enabled devices, but for now, I will focus on how this shift turns up in upgrades to Amazon’s Echo Show, Echo Hub, and Echo Frames features.

The Echo Show: 40% Faster On-Device AI, Adaptive Displays, and Opt-in Smart Personalization

AI-Enabled Features in Amazon Echo Products Point to the Future of UX
Image Source: Amazon

The new Echo Show 8 appears to have undergone a fairly thorough update: Its new industrial design features an improved processor to deliver faster display responses and runs a new model boosting Alexa’s ability to process common smart home requests locally 40% faster than the previous generation.

Echo Show 8 also features what Amazon calls Adaptive Content, a new home screen experience that uses on-device computer vision technology to adjust onscreen content based on a customer’s proximity to the device. It works when a customer positioned across the room sees content that can easily be viewed from a distance (news headline, recipe inspiration, an upcoming calendar item, weather information, etc.), and the screen automatically transitions to a more detailed view as it senses the user coming closer to the device. Adaptive Content will be available on Echo Show 8 2nd and 3rd generation next month and roll out to other Echo Show devices in H1 2024.

Some might find this next part a little techtrusive, as some of my colleagues like to call it (our relationship with new features powered by increasingly smarter sensor technology and always-on awareness can sometimes feel a little unnerving, privacy-wise), but I personally find it to be a great example of opt-in personalization and a frictionless device security feature in a device designed to not only respond to prompts but also anticipate our needs in a natural, intuitive way. If a customer is enrolled in visual ID, the content featured onscreen can be personalized specifically to them. Think favorite playlists, individual calendars, favorite news sources and content creators, and so on. This feature is an opt-in feature, so customers who do not feel comfortable with that level of personalization do not have to use it. For homes with multiple occupants, however, that degree of personalization can come in extremely handy if you want it. I also see a wealth of possible use cases for users with special needs and look forward to seeing them come to life in the coming years.

Note that Echo devices are designed with customer privacy in mind, including multiple layers of privacy controls, and even come equipped with built-in camera shutters. Customers also have full control over their voice recordings and can view, hear, or delete them at any time.

I also noticed that Echo Show 8’s audio features saw a significant upgrade this year. On the one hand, room adaptation technology and spatial audio processing should deliver much improved room-filling sound. On the other hand, the enhanced audio pipeline (to minimize background noise) aims to make conversations during video calls a lot more enjoyable and practical. Here too, AI plays a critical role in optimizing audio performance, even if it is not as obvious to users as some of Echo Show 8’s more obvious AI-enabled features. Echo Show 8 also includes support for Zigbee, Sidewalk, Thread, Bluetooth, and Matter to more fluidly control compatible lights, locks, sensors, and other connected devices.

Smart Features Test Customer Privacy Comfort

I cannot help but feel that Echo Show 8’s new smart features are a bit of a slow boil market test to gauge, on one level, just how comfortable users are with proactive smart features, and on another level, how quickly they can transition from being a little suspect to being perfectly normal, if not indispensable, if the UX is fun and frictionless enough. Going from “I don’t know if I want that feature” to “I can’t imagine living without it anymore” is very hard to execute, especially with consumers being nervous about privacy.

Amazon obviously has to tackle this approach from a trust angle as a company, but on the product side, UX is going to be the secret sauce. It cannot just work and be nice. UX with these products has to be remarkable enough that users not only find themselves relying on them more and more with each passing day but feel compelled to show them off to family and friends. One clear way for Amazon to gauge how well it is doing on that front, aside from actual sales, is by doing an analysis of how much of their sales are driven by personal word-of-mouth recommendations from users.

For now, Amazon’s less-is-more strategy seems appropriate. Alexa is good but not quite as good as it will become – a point Amazon engineers like to be refreshingly but deliberately upfront about – and so Echo finds itself in this strange product management no man’s land of trying to create utility and remarkable experiences without overpromising or underdelivering. It is a tough balancing act, but a necessary one as Alexa (and other digital assistant platforms, to be honest) morph into more intuitive, human-like platforms than they are currently capable of being. We are only scratching the surface of what Alexa-enabled devices will be able to do a few years from now, so I am not surprised to see Amazon taking a bit of a piecemeal approach to its proactive AI-enabled features releases for now.

Amazon also introduced two new Echo Pop Kids designs – Marvel Avengers and Disney Princess – with corresponding character themes that engage kids with themed greetings, fun facts, and jokes about an Avenger or Disney Princess. Echo Pop Kids is Amazon’s affordable smart speaker designed just for kids that delivers kid-friendly responses to prompts, homework help, kid-appropriate jokes, thousands of ad-free and age-appropriate audiobooks, custom Alexa themes, and more.

The Echo Hub: Customizable Dashboards, Adaptive Content, and Agile Compatibility

AI-Enabled Features in Amazon Echo Products Point to the Future of UX
Image Source: Amazon

The new Echo Hub, Amazon’s Alexa-enabled smart home control panel, is intended to be a simple and intuitive way for customers to manage all of their smart home devices from one place. The low-profile 8” touch-enabled display’s customizable dashboard can help users group and manage smart devices, security system features, routines, and widgets as they see fit, and monitor multiple camera feeds, which is a nice touch. Like Echo Show 8, Echo Hub uses Adaptive Content. Using infrared technology, it can detect when someone is nearby and naturally wake up, transitioning from its quiet home screen to the more active smart home control screen.

Echo Hub can be mounted on a wall or placed on a counter with a stand accessory. It can connect to the internet wirelessly or via Ethernet with a compatible power-over-ethernet (PoE) adapter. Hub can be customized with decorative frame accessories in wood, metallic, and paintable white. Echo Hub conveniently supports Zigbee, Sidewalk, Thread, Bluetooth, and Matter, and is compatible with more than 140,000 connected cameras, lights, locks, plugs, thermostats, speakers, and other smart home devices.

Echo Frames: Taking Alexa With You Anywhere You Go and the Logic of Premium Brand Collaborations

AI-Enabled Features in Amazon Echo Products Point to the Future of UX
Image Source: Amazon

Echo Frames feels like a bit of an outlier in the Echo family as it is a wearable product, not purely a smart home product. Echo Frames, whose principal feature in my view is Alexa on-the-go, hits the market with five new styles with sunglass, prescription-ready, and blue light lens options. All frame styles have been designed to be lightweight and durable, reportedly with 15% slimmer temples for enhanced all-day comfort. Amazon promises improved battery life (up to 6 hours of continuous media playback or talk time on a full charge). Here too, there is a redesigned audio architecture (sound tech advancements are still not being covered as aggressively as they ought to be) and new custom-built speakers that reportedly deliver 3x more bass than the previous generation. Amazon suggests that this new design will more accurately direct sound to customers’ ears while minimizing outside noise.

What I find particularly interesting is that Echo Frames are built with upgraded speech processing to improve Alexa’s performance. Amazon reports up to 10x better recognition in loud or windy conditions than the previous generation, meaning that users’ calls, entertainment, and hands-free operation should feel a lot smoother than before.

Amazon also announced a brand collaboration with Carrera – something I expect to see a lot more of as tech companies look for ways to deepen market adoption of their wearables by partnering with premium fashion brands. The Carrera Smart Glasses collection, which includes two new frame designs—the Carrera Cruiser and the Carrera Sprinter— brings Alexa features into Carrera’s style ecosystem. As a fan of Carrera shades, this collaboration is music to my ears. Every eyewear brand should have a smart glasses strategy at this point, so the market could see more Echo Frames collaborations with luxury and premium brands in the coming years.

Notes on Sustainability

All Echo devices announced this year come with the Carbon Trust’s Reducing CO2 certification and qualify for the Climate Pledge Friendly badge. Echo Show 8 and Echo Hub have low power mode to conserve energy during periods of inactivity, helping to save energy over the devices’ lifetime. Echo Show 8 fabric is made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester yarn, and its packaging is 100% recyclable in the US. Device packaging for Echo Hub is made from 97% wood fiber-based materials from responsibly managed forests or recycled sources. Echo Frames and Carrera Smart Glasses’ charging stand is made with 35% recycled materials and packaging is 100% recyclable. Additionally, product detail pages for each of these devices feature product sustainability fact sheets with information about device life cycle carbon emissions and sustainability impact.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

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Image Credit: Amazon

Author Information

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.

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