Google’s Home and the Sonos One are about to get some competition in the home and kitchen, as Amazon’s Echo gets set for local release (and possibly more).
About the worst question you can ask any local technology journalist at the moment is “when is Amazon coming to Australia”, a question that will likely be met with a blank stare, a slow blink, and the response of “what do I look like: Amazon’s PR department?”
The simple truth is that despite rumours suggesting a Black Friday launch last week, Amazon AU never eventuated, beyond that of say the regular Kindle storefront we’ve all had for ages.
And yet there’s a fairly strong feeling that Amazon’s local presence won’t be too far off, with news that the global e-tailer will be bringing its Echo smart speaker and Alexa voice assistant platform to Australia in the new year.
The news comes straight from Amazon itself, which used the last of the week to tell the world that its Echo smart speakers would be coming to Australia in 2018, and Amazon’s Alexa platform would be joining it, giving Australians another choice of smart assistant to use with another speaker or two, essentially providing competition to the Google Home speaker, while also possibly activating the Alexa functionality in the Sonos One.
While Amazon’s Echo speaker is sure to make some noise with its 6.35cm downward-firing woofer and Dolby processing, the real focus may be on its ability to pick up on audio, handled by seven microphones and far-field voice recognition to pick up on sounds from around it, with Amazon’s Alexa platform handling the intelligence side of things.
Just like with Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri, the concept here is to get Alexa to do things for you, such as setting timers, checking the news, answering questions, and controlling your music, something Amazon will also be connecting with its on-demand all-you-can-hear music streaming service, which it also plans to bring to Australia (something we noted when we joined Vertical Hold’s podcast recently).
“The customer response to Alexa and Echo has been incredibly positive, and we’re excited to make them available for our Australian and New Zealand customers early next year,” said Toni Reid, Vice President for Amazon Alexa.
“We also look forward to helping new and existing developers create innovative Alexa experiences for customers by expanding the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service to Australia and New Zealand,” she said.
The last area Reid mentions is interesting, with the Alexa Voice Service essentially being a way hardware makers will be able to connect Alexa into their own products, potentially opening the door for more devices in your home to support Alexa, and letting you talk to Alexa-enabled products for all-round smart home access.
But there’s also the one other thing this announcement is likely to bring: the Amazon store to Australia.
It’s certainly been rumoured for long enough, but with Amazon announcing its hardware and online offerings for next year, we’d say that’s as good a sign as any that 2018 will be the year Amazon came to play down under.