retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Amazon yesterday announced what it called "an array of new programs, devices, and features that make it easier than ever for customers to find, setup, and enjoy connected devices in their homes. Amazon is making smart home simpler with Certified for Humans, a new program that helps customers find products that are tested to be simple to setup and work dependably with Alexa, and new devices like the Amazon Smart Oven that make cooking easy. New Alexa Guard capabilities help customers keep their home safe, and new features like WiFi access and easy reordering of household supplies with Alexa make homes even smarter and more convenient."

Amazon says that "every device that carries the Certified for Humans badge offers Frustration Free Setup, which cuts down on the number of steps needed to connect to Alexa. In many cases, it’s as easy as plugging it in. And after that, it only gets better. Certified for Humans devices are tested against over a dozen requirements to help ensure they offer a dependable Alexa experience; no more waiting around for software updates or unresponsive devices. Customers can find the Certified for Humans badge on select smart home devices starting this fall from brands including Amazon, Philips Hue, Hamilton Beach, Kasa Smart by TP-Link, and more."

In addition, the Seattle Times reports that Amazon "unveiled scores of new products, including three that would move Amazon’s microphones directly onto people: earbuds, eyeglasses and a ring (for your finger) – the latter two positioned as experiments to be offered initially on an invitation-only basis."

Among the other entries:

• The Amazon Smart Oven, "a combination convection oven, microwave, air fryer and food warmer. When paired with an Echo, customers can ask Alexa to preheat the oven, start or stop cooking, and be notified when the oven is preheated or their favorite lasagna or fresh-baked cookies are ready."

• Alexa Guard, with which "customers can keep their home safe when they’re away. When you set Guard to Away mode, if an Echo device detects the sound of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, or glass breaking, Alexa can send you Smart Alerts, via notifications to your phone. Starting this fall, Guard will begin supporting a new Smart Alert that can notify customers if the sound of activity like footsteps, talking, coughing, or a door closing, is detected while Guard is in Away mode. Customers can also create Alexa Routines that include Guard to provide even more peace of mind and convenience: set Guard to Away mode, lock the back door, and turn on the porch light with a simple phrase like 'Alexa, I’m headed out'."

The Financial Times offers the following analysis:

"Amazon’s headlong dash into so many new pieces of hardware has made it the anti-Apple. Forget about carefully crafting a product in secret until it has been brought to a point of perfection, with a lofty price tag to match: Amazon is all about rapid experimentation and cut-throat prices … What makes Amazon such a fearsome competitor, however, is that it doesn’t know only one game. That has been evident this week as it has made forays in a number of areas, all of them with one aim: to put its services at the centre of the widest array of new hardware. Having missed the smartphone market, it is making up for lost time."

And, the Seattle Times writes:

""These wearable devices would fill a gap left by Amazon’s failure to develop its own viable smartphone. That puts it at a disadvantage to competitors Google and Apple, whose voice computing technology travels everywhere that Android and iPhone users take their devices. (Alexa can be used on smartphones through an app.) Amazon’s vision of ubiquitous sensing and voice control relies on wireless connectivity, which — using existing technologies such as Bluetooth and home Wi-Fi, and even forthcoming 5G cellular networks — has limitations, particularly beyond the boundaries of the home."
KC's View:
Michael Sansolo and I were chatting about these various announcements yesterday, and reflecting on commercials that we've seen recently for a kitchen faucet that is Alexa-controlled, allowing people to say things like, "I need six ounces of cold water," and have exactly that much come out.

We agreed on a couple of things. One is that it won't be long before these kinds of faucets will be standard operating equipment in kitchens. They seem amazing now, but our kids and grandkids will taken them for granted. And the same would seem to go for a lot of these innovations.

It is interesting how Amazon comes out with a range of items at the same time. Flooding the market has its advantages in terms of getting attention and training a spotlight on innovation, though I suspect it also creates the possibility that there also could be a flood of glitches with which Amazon has to deal.

But that's okay. All this stuff is changing the world, bit by bit, and I'm intrigued by the possibilities even as I have some concerns about some of the implications and consequences.

Oh, and the other thing that Michael and I agreed on? It is that we are not that far from being able to look at a food replicator and saying, "Earl Grey, hot," and actually having it materialize.