If you think about Amazon’s role in smart home devices
and technology, there’s one product that instantly springs to mind… Smart speakers. With the enduringly popular Echo family with the ubiquitous digital assistant Alexa onboard, Amazon has already exerted a stranglehold on a key segment of the market. Amazon’s approach with smart speakers exemplifies the ethos of a connected home: user-friendly tech capable of controlling gadgets throughout the house hands-free. Amazon is nevertheless locked into stiff competition with Apple and Google for complete dominance of the home operating system. Today, we’ll outline Amazon’s emerging home automation line, and the growing range might surprise you in its depth. And the obvious starting point is those world-famous smart speakers…
Amazon smart speakers debuted in late 2014 for Prime members. They soon went mainstream in mid-2015 when the first generation Echo was rolled out. Until then, Amazon had focused fully on the expansion of its retail platform as well as pushing Amazon Web Services. As the revenue growth of the retail arm started slowing and margins remain very low, Amazon pivoted in an attempt to boost the stock price and swell the bottom line. By December 2017, Amazon had shifted 36 million smart speakers. One year later, this had practically doubled to a staggering 66 million units. Revenue from smart speakers sold domestically is estimated at $1.2 billion in 2018. This is based on an average price of $60 for the 20 million units sold in the US that year. With smart speakers launched across all major international markets, growth looks inevitable. CIRP (Consumer Intelligence Research Partners
) data projects that growth at almost 100%. Combined with an ever-growing range, Amazon are making it tough for Google to compete, even given the popularity of the Google Home smart speakers
packing Google Assistant. Apple’s Home Pod
cannot be considered serious competition and appeals to a far slimmer market segment. We’ll briefly highlight some of the strongest performers in this robust line of smart speakers.
6 Echo Smart Speakers Worth Adding To Your Smart Home
As a foundation for home automation, an Echo device is the default option for millions. Here are some of the multiple variants at your disposal:
- Echo Second Generation
- Echo Plus Second Generation
- Echo Spot
- Echo Dot
- Echo Dot For Kids
- Echo Show
Rebooted with a superior speaker and a fresh fabric design, the newest iteration of Echo is still flying off the shelves in volume. While Amazon don’t divulge too much specific information about the drivers, you’ll get a pair of speakers equipped with Dolby processing. While “room-filling” is pushing it, you’ll certainly an immersive soundscape to liven up your streaming. As with all smart speakers, the audio is actually not the USP, though. If the sound disappoints, you can always hook up Echo to external speakers or headphones via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm outlet. The key attraction, of course, is Alexa. Here, the 7 microphones and innovative beamforming mean Alexa can hear you across a busy, noisy room. You’ll be able to take charge of all your compatible smart devices using voice commands as well as organizing your day. Check out how to make the most out of Echo’s smart commands right here
. With hands-free calls and messaging possible between Echo devices, this original model is still a smart home stalwart in 2018. All that remains to be seen now is when a third generation will be announced.
Upping the ante is Echo Plus, a smart speaker boasting an integrated Zigbee home hub
. The hub means you can take enhanced control of Zigbee-enabled devices without being bound to a third-party gateway. This makes Echo Plus a strong choice if you only plan to invest in a handful of smart devices and you want to keep costs down. The same dynamic bass and clear upper end as Echo give you more than serviceable audio. You can tweak equalizer settings with voice commands. You can also drop in a second Echo Plus if you want true stereo sound. Finished in fabric with a choice of 3 colorways, this unobtrusive smart speaker is our overall favorite from a broad and impressive range.
A tiny disc measuring just 4.1 x 3.8 x 3.6 inches and weighing less than 15oz, Echo Spot punches above its weight. While marketed as a smart alarm clock, Spot can do so much more than wake you in the mornings. Once up, you can stream your favorite tunes to ease into your day. Ask Alexa for traffic reports and weather forecast to streamline your planning. Organization is where this digital assistant excels. Just like with the larger stablemates, you’ll also be able to take control of the compatible smart devices in your home hands-free. If you want the ultimate in portability or a second Echo device to add to your collection, Spot is well worth investigating.
Now into a third generation, Echo Dot is also tiny with a price tag as skimpy as its footprint. Sound has certainly improved, but it’s advisable to hook up Dot to a third-party speaker using Bluetooth or an audio cable. That way, you’ll get a far richer streaming experience whether from Amazon Music or Apple Music, YouTube or Spotify. Hands-free calling between devices turns Echo Dot into a makeshift intercom. Drop-in allows you to stay in touch with your nearest and dearest or to call the kids down for dinner. Boasting more than 50,000 skills, Alexa just keeps getting better. As with all Echo devices, smart home control is a breeze. Set-up couldn’t be simpler, and if you want to know what to do once you’re up and running, we’ve got you covered here
If you want to introduce your children to home automation in a safe and user-friendly way, the kids’ version of Echo Dot is the obvious choice. Blue, green, and red covers add a splash of fun to proceedings. You can also get multi-packs
, ideal if you’ve got several children and you’re on a tighter budget. This smart speaker comes with a year’s subscription to FreeTime Unlimited thrown in. Audible books, games, songs, and skills are all immaculately kid-friendly. You’ll be able to take charge of everything using the Amazon Parent Dashboard. You can monitor activity, implement time limits and allow calls to designated numbers. As with all Echo smart speakers, you can also encourage your kids to control the lights or plugs using voice commands. It’s a nice, gently way to ease them into home automation without them tampering with your main Echo device. The crowning glory is a 2-year limited warranty so you won’t have any concerns about unleashing your children with a breakable device.
Echo Show is not cheap but steps the smart speaker game up by adding a 10-inch HD screen. From watching videos to making calls with an added dimension, you should ask yourself honestly how much use you’ll make of the screen. After all, if you’re only planning to watch the occasional YouTube clip, it’s senseless. If you’re looking for a kitchen companion, though, you’ll be delighted you made the investment. Following recipes and setting timers is brought to life on screen. Packing the usual smart home control, you’ll be able to discover and set up compatible Zigbee devices with no need for an additional hub.
Works with Alexa: The Open Approach for Third-Party Devices
The scope of the Echo smart speaker range along with keen pricing gives Amazon a huge boost in their assault on home automation. Building upon this bedrock comes a vast array of smart devices boasting the label Works with Alexa
. So, once you’ve got your Echo device in place, look out for compatible third-party devices you can control hands-free. Amazon makes earning this optional certification simple for smart home companies. No special chips are required. Amazon ask for the software code which is then analyzed at Amazon labs. Approval can take as little as 10 days. Apple, by contrast, makes it incredibly awkward to earn HomeKit certification, another slight edge for Amazon in the home automation war. If you’re looking for some hints on controlling your smart home with voice commands, check out our handy hints right here
. By allowing other manufacturers to piggy-back Alexa functionality, Amazon further drives its own smart speaker sales. This shows you don’t need to lock an ecosystem right down to succeed. We’ll look now at some of the other strings in Amazon’s home automation bow.
Cloud Cam is a budget indoor wireless camera appealing to the two main draws of home automation: security and convenience. You can stay fully abreast of happenings inside your connected home remotely. Any security breach triggers an alert to your smartphone. You’ll be able to watch what’s going on in 1080p full HD with night vision. You can also communicate using the two-way audio. As with all wireless cameras indoors, this makes Cloud Cam a great intercom
. Video is stored free of charge for 24 hours with extra storage available at a modest cost. The upgraded plan also offers small but valuable tweaks. You can add in-person detection and also demarcate zones of your smart home. It goes unsaid Cloud Cam works with Alexa so you can use your smart speaker to issue voice commands if you’re not using the app. Live view is displayed if you have Echo Show, Echo Spot or a Fire TV device. If you have a larger home, you can buy 2-packs or 3-packs for even greater value.
For anyone dipping a toe into home automation, a smart plug
is a common entry point. Set-up is truly plug-and-play. With this Alexa-enabled beauty, you’ll be able to control lights, fans, and other small appliances hands-free. You can eliminate the need for a home hub or an Echo device if you want to test the waters first. Everything can be controlled neatly in-app or using voice commands. The major drawback of this smart plug is incompatible with 5GHz WiFi networks. If you’re only running this type of WiFi, give this a swerve. If you still have the regular 2.4GHz network, though, it’s a budget plug that packs a real kick.
3 Big Amazon Acquisitions
Given a solid base of smart speakers but a rather limited range of devices, Amazon stepped things up with a series of bold acquisitions. As well as investing in ecobee, Scout Alarm, Rachio, and Luma, Amazon acquired the following companies outright:
In late 2017, Amazon bought out smart doorbell and camera start-up Blink. According to Reuters, Amazon paid about $90 million. With a typical long-term Amazon outlook, this deal was about far more than selling another security camera. Why then, did they pay so much? Blink has proprietary chips that Amazon hope to harness to slash production costs while prolonging battery life on its other devices and gadgets. Since battery life is such a big deal in connected devices, this was a very shrewd move on the part of Bezos and co. Since digital chips are also among the most expensive component in cameras, Amazon’s vertical integration might pay dividends far beyond that stiff purchase price. The Blink range of indoor and outdoor security cameras
will add another revenue stream for Amazon while also increasing their market share in the smart home sector. The video doorbells appeared at CES 2018 and are slated for imminent release. The video doorbell should tie in nicely with Amazon Key, the delivery service facilitator. Unlike the discontinued Dash Buttons
, Amazon Key is still going strong.
Even more audacious and costly, Amazon bought out Ring for a full $1 billion
in February 2018. As usual, Amazon declined to outline the terms of the deal but what remains abundantly clear is this… Acquiring a company with such a solid reputation for home security is another neat tie-in with Amazon Key. It also adds a further suite of smart devices into Amazon’s growing collection. With the upcoming Ring Smart Lighting range, Amazon are continuing to surge forward in the home automation arena. Check out the various cameras and doorbell cameras here
and look out for our forthcoming article on that looming range of smart lighting.
Consumer demand for strong and stable WiFi shows no signs of abating. With so many homes packed with smart devices, mesh WiFi systems
are starting to displace regular routers. Google offers a router replacement
and now Amazon has entered the fray. Apple has discontinued its AirPort home routers so it’s now a straight head-to-head. Last month, Amazon announced it would be buying Eero, a San Franciscan start-up specializing in wireless routers and range extenders. Terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed
. Eero also offers home security services for an annual fee, in keeping with Amazon’s love of recurring income streams like Prime membership. With traditional WiFi often blighted by dead spots, especially in larger homes, there’s a huge demand for more innovative solutions. This Amazon acquisition will go a long way toward improving user experience in the connected home with proprietary products.
Amazon Smart Home Services: Home Security and Installation
With Amazon Smart Home Services
, you can take advantage of background-checked service providers to install your smart home kit. You’ll also be able to purchase the security equipment you need with no requirement for prohibitive contracts. While this launch was very low-key for Amazon, it illustrates an important point. Not only has Amazon started broadening its approach to home automation, according to Market Watch, it now has more smart home devices than Google and Apple.
The Future For Amazon and Home Automation
With Fire TV and Fire TV Recast
streamlining entertainment, and an ever-tightening grip on all areas of home automation, Amazon is leaving no stone unturned. 2019 looks set to be a time of continuing advances in the smart home space and we can only imagine Amazon will keep pushing forward to dominate as much as possible. Come back next week for more of the latest smart home news