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New Dot And Tap Alexa Devices Show Amazon's Growing Smart Home Ambitions

Mike Wolf Alexa Amazon Dot Echo Tap

If you go over to Amazon's job site and do a search for Echo, there are currently 598 positions listed. There's another 272 for Alexa.

That's a whole lotta jobs, and last week when news came out about Amazon's job fair and this massive recruiting effort for Amazon's smart home and IoT initiatives, it got me thinking about what exactly Amazon had in mind for all of these new recruits.

One area could simply be to grow the universe of third party devices that work with Echo. The Echo team is busy adding new devices to their roster of interoperable products as they look to execute on their wedge strategy and make their device a voice powered virtual hub. Another could be growing the Alexa universe; the Alexa folks have been busy recruiting third party product companies to integrate Alexa and this will likely accelerate. 

But with today's news they are expanding the Echo family of products, it's clear another area for Amazon's new recruits could be to further development of Amazon's own first-party hardware devices.  The company announced two new products - The Dot and the Tap, both of which address new use cases and show how Amazon is looking to lead the market in voice virtual assistance and AI. 

Here's more on each:

The Dot: This is the more interesting to me of the two. The Dot is essentially the brains of the Echo, with the ability to connect to any speaker (it also has its own smaller speaker). The real magic of the Echo Dot (and the Echo for that matter) is its far field voice capabilities. This feature enables the device to pick up voice commands in varying acoustic environments at fairly long range in your home.  My sources tell me it's these far field aspects of Echo that are one of the areas Amazon is counting on to truly set itself apart in this race to be the home's voice control layer.

What the Dot does is to give consumers the ability to create a truly Alexa powered home without investing in more expensive Echos or waiting for the flood of third-party Alexa powered devices that are on their way over the next 18 months.  

Amazon Tap: The Tap is basically a lower-cost Echo aimed at the Bluetooth portable speaker market (but with Wi-Fi as well!). It's got dual speakers for 360 degree sound (unlike most BT speakers). In order to engage Alexa, you simply 'tap' the button, unlike the voice-engagement you get with the "always-listening" devices like the Echo/Dot. The requirement to tap a button rather than engage with voice probably isn't so much a result of any effort to create a more cost effective Alexa device, but probably Amazon focusing closely on the specific use-cases for the Tap. I imagine the Tap will more likely be used in public and out-of-home settings, where accidental Alexa wake-ups want to be minimized.

Taking stock of the bigger picture, this news shows that Amazon's investment in Alexa and Echo is growing and on multiple fronts. From investing in third party product integrations (Alexa Fund), to the expansion of Alexa and Echo feature sets, to growing Amazon's own first party device lineup where it makes sense, it's abundantly clear to me that Amazon has plans for smart home and IoT world domination.  

It's interesting to think back to 2014 when all the focus around the Amazon device business was on the Fire Phone and Fire TV. But out of nowhere Amazon introduced the Echo and Alexa, and today the Fire Phone and TV are almost afterthoughts. Amazon sees a huge white space in the virtual assistant and digital home AI, while both Apple and Google have lagged as they have gotten bogged down on the more difficult path of creating lower-stack frameworks.

From a strategy standpoint, Amazon is running circles around Apple and Google in consumer IoT. 

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