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Amazon expands Echo family with two new voice-controlled digital assistants

By Shawn Knight
Mar 3, 2016
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  1. Amazon on Thursday announced two new additions to its Alexa-powered family of voice-controlled digital assistants, the Echo Dot and Amazon Tap.

    The Echo Dot is a pint-sized version of the original Echo that's designed to connect to your own set of speakers via wired or wireless Bluetooth connection (it has its own speaker but it's not all that loud). It utilizes the same "far field" voice recognition technology as its full-sized counterpart meaning it can pick up on commands from pretty far away, even in noisy environments. The puck-shaped gadget also uses a colored light ring as a visual indicator that it's working.

    The Amazon Tap, meanwhile, is essentially a portable Bluetooth speaker with Alexa functionality built in (it also works over Wi-Fi). Inside are two 1.5-inch drivers and dual passive radiators for bass extension. It tips the scales at just over a pound and offers up to nine hours of playback on a single charge (it also comes with a charging cradle).

    Their arrival isn't a surprise as Amazon was rumored to be working on a smaller Echo back in January. The fact that two models debuted today, however, was a bit unexpected.

    The original Echo debuted in late 2014 and has become a surprise hit for the company. At that time, I mentioned that the device would ultimately become an e-commerce play that would allow customers to order products from its site without having to lift a finger.

    That's more or less come to fruition, especially considering the fact that the Echo Dot can only be ordered using Alexa. In other words, you already need to have the standard Echo or an Amazon Fire TV to buy it (you also need to be a Prime member). Should you fit both of those requirements, simply say "Alexa, order Echo Dot" and the deed will be done.

    From a marketing perspective, the Echo eliminates virtually all points of friction and makes it incredibly easy for shoppers to impulse buy. That can be a bit dangerous for the consumer, especially those that are in debt and / or trying to work a budget as even small incidentals can quickly add up.

    Multiple studies have shown that people tend to spend more when paying with plastic versus cash, partially because it's more convenient. I can't really think of anything that's easier or more convenient than voice-activated ordering. That's not to say a product like this is a bad thing; one just needs to exercise a bit of self-control.

    The Amazon Tap retails for $129.99 and is available to pre-order as of writing via conventional sales tactics. It ships March 31. The Echo Dot, meanwhile, will set you back $89.99.

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