Amazon Smart Glasses.
Amazon is working on building a pair of smart glasses to house its Alexa voice assistant, and a home security camera that could be linked to its existing Echo connected devices to further expand their capabilities, according to a report in the FT.
The newspaper says one or both of these products could be launched before the end of the year, alongside updates to existing Echo devices. According to the FT, the smart glasses are intended to be purely an earbuds-free housing for Amazon’s Alexa AI — with a bone-conduction audio system that would enable the wearer to hear Alexa without the need to be wired in.
With no mobile platform of its own to build on, Amazon has a strategic disadvantage vs Google and Apple because it cannot bake its voice AI into smartphone hardware where millions of engaged users could easily summon it — hence the company working on a plethora of alternative connected devices to try to put Alexa within earshot anyway.
The idea for the glasses, which would be its first wearable, would be to do just that: Enable Alexa to be summoned from anywhere, vs the current situation where users are barking commands at static in-home speakers. The FT reports the glasses would wirelessly tether to a user’s smartphone for connectivity. They are also apparently being designed to look like a regular pair of spectacles, so they could be worn comfortably and unobtrusively.
Of course if Amazon’s glasses contain an always listening microphone they would still represent a privacy concern — though it’s not clear if that’s Amazon’s intention at this stage, or whether the wearer would need to touch the glasses to summon the AI’s ear.
The ecommerce giant has been ramping up its connected devices portfolio ever since it outed the original Echo smart speaker in November 2014. The speaker went on to become something of a surprise hit for Amazon, whose prior mobile hardware forays had badly flopped. And while it has never broken out Echo sales figures, it’s clear the idea of a smart speaker has excited huge interest from industry, dovetailing with rising hype around voice interfaces as the next big user interaction shift, as computing becomes increasingly embedded into the environment where it might not be viable (or desirable) to have lots of screens.
Rivals were soon putting out their own AI-powered Echo clones, such as Alphabet’s Google Home smart speaker ( link rumoured to soon be coming in a smaller form factor too). Apple is also now getting in on the smart speaker game, with the Siri housing HomePod.
Meanwhile Amazon has doubled down on Echo, turning its single breakout product into a full category portfolio — with an entry level option (£50 Echo Dot), a portable speaker ( Echo Tap ), a speaker-plus-screen for in-home video comms ( Echo Show ), and a fashion-focused selfie-taker and style assistant ( Echo Look).
If the FT’s sources are on the money the next Echo-branded addition could be an ‘Echo Protect’ security camera.