Amazon’s Echo is a lot of things to a lot of people — but the word “premium” never really enters the conversation. That’s because, like most of the devices Amazon makes, the product isn’t really about the hardware at all — it’s a content delivery channel that’s helped the company land in millions of living rooms. According to a new report from Engadget, however, the company is looking to up its game with the next generation of the cylindrical smart speaker — offering something more inline with Apple’s upcoming HomePod.
The device is definitely long overdue for an upgrade — Amazon’s added a number of new members to the Echo family, all while keeping the original device mostly untouched in the two years it’s been on the market. According to unnamed sources, the product will sport a better built-in speaker system, cloth covering and a shorter build — all of which also apply to the new Apple product.
The smaller size and improved sound are both no-brainers for the first meaningful update since the Echo’s original release. And Amazon’s probably feeling some pushback from both the HomePod and Google Home in terms of making a product that better blends into a bookshelf or a desk. Let’s be honest, the Echo line is pretty junky looking. Once the original novelty of the thing wore off, I suspect a lot of people started stashing them out of view like a router — though maybe that’s just me.
That there’s a new version of the Echo just over the horizon checks out, as well. Among other things, Prime Day is a great clearinghouse for old inventory. All of the older Echo models got a price cut, but the original’s was by far the deepest, at 50 percent, which serves the dual purpose of getting Alexa into a lot more homes and, perhaps, clearing out some of those warehouse shelves to make room for something new.
But there are some key unanswered questions here, the most important being pricing. That’s the the factor that will really determine how Amazon is ultimately positioning the product. The Echo is $180. That’s nothing compared to the HomePod’s $350 price tag, but it has since been undercut by Google’s $130 Home and, more to the point, the $50 Dot, which is currently the best-selling Echo product.
The Dot is the device that’s making Alexa pervasive in the home. A lot of the Echo fans I speak to have gone out and bought a bunch of the products in an attempt to blanket their home with Alexa. Our own Sarah Perez told me that she picked up a second Dot on Prime Day, bringing her home to a grand total of three Echo devices.
In some ways, the Dot has made the original Echo redundant. Sure, the original version has a larger speaker, but it’s not a particularly good one, and as far as I know, no one’s really buying an Echo for the speaker (and besides, the Tap kind of fills that void already). The HomePod, on the other hand, is an attempt to challenge that idea — and the idea that a smart speaker can’t be a useful product, divorced of its assistant. By going fully premium, Amazon would certainly help distinguish the Echo from the Dot.
I don’t suspect the company will go full-on HomePod here, though. Amazon’s no doubt gunning to get Alexa onto some really premium Bluetooth speakers, but that will probably happen more organically as more third-parties build the smart assistant into their own products. After all, integrated Alexa is the future of the assistant — these sorts of standalone devices are really just the gateway.
I would be surprised if the product retailed anywhere near the $230 Echo Show, as well. More likely, the company will keep the pricing around the current $180, with the upgrade going a ways toward justifying keeping the original Echo around a bit longer.