Amazon’s Echo Buttons are just the start – more form factors to launch this year

Amazon’s Echo Buttons, the weird devices that work with at-home trivia games you play with Alexa, are only the start of what could turn out to be a new product line filled with a variety of “connected accessories.” The company is now testing other gadgets of a similar nature with Alexa game developers and plans to launch these sometime in 2018.

“I think you’ll see a lot more games come out this year that take advantage of the buttons,” said Steve Rabuchin, vice president of Amazon Alexa, in a conversation this week at CES. He added that consumers may see more types of connected devices, too. “They could be buttons or they could be other form factors,” he said of the rollouts expected this year.

Specifically, this product category is called Alexa Gadgets, and their existence isn’t completely unknown.

The company at its re:Invent developer conference late last year announced its plans for this new category of connected products designed to work with Alexa – and the developer tools needed to create them.

As with the Echo itself, the Echo Buttons demonstrate the technology that’s possible – the buttons aren’t standalone devices, but connect with Echo via Bluetooth. But with the newer developer tools, anyone can build their own connected devices, too.

“The model is that we build something, we open it up to developer community, and let them innovate,” Rabuchin said.

A select group of developers is now previewing the technology with their own skills. And it’s no surprise that the debut testers are game developers.

Games have grown to become one of the popular skill categories on Amazon’s skills store, its marketplace for voice apps, both in terms of engagement and sheer number of skills available. That’s why games were the first skills to be rewarded with direct payments – a practice Amazon plans to continue, even though it’s since announced more standard monetization tools, like in-app purchases and subscriptions (again, starting with games.)

But it also makes sense because games are one of the ways Amazon is aiming to leverage Alexa and its Echo speakers to upsell customers to Prime, as members get perks like free additional content.

As for what Alexa game skills will start to work with the existing Echo buttons, following launch partner Hasbro’s Trivial Pursuit Tap, or bring their own “Alexa Gadgets” to market this year, isn’t yet being said.

Of course, Amazon’s demonstration of the developer technology for gadgets was fairly memorable at re:Invent – when it showed off one of those Big Mouth Billy Bass talking fish wall hangings that lip-synced to music played by Echo devices via voice commands. The point was that anything can connect to Alexa over Bluetooth to enable new experiences.

Beat the Intro, a multi-player group music game (a la ‘name that tune’), showed off how its skill could be integrated with Echo buttons, as well.

Rabuchin seems fairly optimistic about how the buttons have performed so far. “We launched the buttons at Christmastime. They sold out quickly,” he said. (In true Amazon fashion, he declined to share button sales figures.  But Trivial Pursuit Tap has 58 reviews, 13 of which mention buttons. The buttons, meanwhile, have 226 reviews.)

The Echo buttons are currently on backorder on Amazon’s site – more won’t be available to ship for 4 to 6 weeks’ time.