Amazon Announcement Day 2019: maybe the best ever (Part 1: the wearables)

Amazon Announcement Day 2019: maybe the best ever (Part 1: the wearables)

I’m not saying that the products and features announced Wednesday were necessarily the best ever (it’s hard to overstate the importance of Apple’s iPhone introduction), but in terms of entertainment value, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a event like this that could beat it.

Part of that was just the sheer range: from “Say what now?” experiments (what Amazon calls “Day 1”) to a new price low on an iconic product line.

The first thing I’ll say is that this seems to be being well-received amongst tech writers and mainstream coverage. No one is doubting that there is that rare combination of wisdom and bravery here. Brave because it’s breaking new ground. Wise because they are addressing customer (and potential customer) concerns, and making it all seem genuinely obtainable for many consumers.

In terms of general themes, the main one was our Alexapresent future. I just coined that term, wanting to play on Alexa (Amazon’s digital assistant) being omnipresent (available everywhere). We are truly reaching what has been called “ambient computing”: computing available just as part of the background of your life. It means that, eventually, you don’t even think of it as accessing a computer…you just ask what the weather is, or for navigation somewhere, and it happens. If we go back to perhaps the biggest society changing technology to date, the written word, we have that. We read almost constantly: street signs, the time on a digital clock, the words at the bottom of a TV screen, product labels, and so on. We don’t think about doing it most of the time. It’s actually a very complex process: watch someone, child or adult, when they are first learning to read. It takes immense concentration and effort. Reading is ambient: computing is moving towards that state.

Another theme was consumer control. We hear a lot about people having privacy concerns…I’ve seen the term “spy” used more than once. However, it’s not spying if you know about it, and if you can end it whenever you want. There were significant control elements introduced, both in when Alexa collects information, and how you can get rid of what it has collected. I wonder if some consumers won’t even look at some of these products because of privacy concerns which may have already been addressed. That parallels something that happened years ago, where Amazon removed infringing copies of 1984 from customers’ Kindles without asking them. That has been clearly addressed, even stated publicly that they wouldn’t do that in that way again. Still, there are probably people who still worry about that happening, about Amazon removing books which have already been downloaded, today.

In the past, I’ve felt that Amazon as an organization didn’t always have a great empathetic ability to tell how people were going to react to things that it did. I do believe that is changing, that they are getting better at how typical, non-techie customers will respond to things they do.

Let’s get to what they announced!

I’ve decided to make this post just about the three wearables Amazon introduced. There may be a series of posts, just because of the cornucopia of items.

Echo Buds (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

What are they?

Wireless in-ear devices with speakers and a microphone (actually, 3 microphones per ear), which makes Alexa available anywhere.

When will they be available?

They can be pre-ordered in the USA now with an October 30th release date.

What do they cost?

$129.99

That’s the overview…here are some more details.

  • Bose Active Noise Reduction Technology: can be used to block out sounds
    • Importantly, they also have “passthrough” so you can hear sounds around you
  • You can access Alexa just be speaking
    • Hear an audiobook (as an introductory offer, you get 3 months of Audible free (not available to current members)
    • Play music
    • Make phone calls
    • Get directions
    • You can do all the other usual Alexa functions…for me, I would use text-to-speech, control our SmartHome, check the weather, maybe listen to TuneIn…they use the regular Alexa skills (apps), so that gives you lots of options
  • You can also access other Smart Assistants on your phone…Siri on iPhones, Google Assistant on Android phones: they don’t just respond to your voice, the way that Alexa does…you hold in a button to invoke them, then you can speak to them
  • It can play music for five hours on a charge, and you can get a two hour charge in about fifteen minutes. There’s a charging case that gives you 20 hours of playback
  • They give you 3 sizes of ear tips, which should help give you a comfortable fit and a good seal (the latter important to keep outside noise out)
  • It’s water-resistant: should be fine when you sweat, and in rain
  • Amazon is doing a lot to improve your privacy. You can turn off the mics, for example, although you use the phone and the Alexa app to do that

Is there competition? Yes, and some can do Alexa, but honestly, pricewise and featurewise, these do very well.

My assessment? I think these could be a popular holiday item (and would sell before that, of course). Since they can be used with Apple and Android phones, they’d be a pretty safe bet. They should have that cool factor.

Echo Frames (at AmazonSmile*)

What are they?

Eyeglass frames (you can have prescription lenses or use them with ‘hipster’ clear lenses) which have Alexa built into them.

When will they be available?

They are currently only available by invitation…you can ask to be put on the list, but that doesn’t mean you will get them.

What do they cost?

$179.99 currently, $249.99 after the “introductory period”.

  • They come in one size, Medium/Large. There is a sizing guide on the product page
  • All the Alexa functions are available: make phone calls, etc.
  • Their weight is comparable to regular frames
  • You can filter what notifications you get
  • You should be able to hear easily, but other people around you should not be able to hear what is being said. This is all without having to stick something in your ear. Note that that means people will generally be unaware that you have Alexa frames
    • However, it’s worth noting that there is no camera and no display, making it considerably different from Google Glass, which may have sunk under privacy concerns. At this point, I don’t think there will be much possibility for them to invade other people’s privacy…I doubt it will pick up a voice two arms lengths away, although I don’t know that for sure
  • It can connect to Google Assistant
    • Note: currently it does not connect to iPhones
  • One change to people’s routines would be plugging in your glasses to charge at night. I don’t see that as a major hurdle: people are used to plugging things in to charge. If you have strong glasses, it does mean that if you wake up and need your glasses, you might fumble a bit to unplug them, but again, I don’t think that’s going to stop very many people
    • Charges in about 75 minutes
    • One charge seems to handle a typical day pretty well, the way they describe it…they give you an example on the product page

My assessment? At this point, this is pretty niche. If you already wear glasses and use Alexa, this make sense. They’re more expensive than the Echo Buds, but some people won’t want to have things in their ears all day long. Oh, I saw a stat that frames are usually in this price range, which helps.

Echo Loop (at AmazonSmile)

What is it?

A ring with a microphone and speaker built into it so you can use Alexa

When will they be available?

They are currently only available by invitation…you can ask to be put on the list, but that doesn’t mean you will get them.

What do they cost?

$129.99 currently: after the “introductory period”, they’ll be $179.99.

  • It’s not always listening: you tap it to access Alexa
  • When you make a call, you’ll be switching from holding it in front of your mouth to speak, then holding it to your ear to listen
  • You can get haptic feedback: you’ll feel it when something comes in for you
  • You can put one contact on “speed dial”, to call them easily…everybody else you’ll speak
  • Charges in 90 minutes, should last all day

My assessment? This is definitely a gadget, I don’t see it as being very practical. I would think most people would go for the earbuds instead. I think it will be pretty obvious when people are using them: it will look like Dick Tracy in the old comic strips, raising his wrist to use his wrist telephone.

One thing: I’m pretty sure I suggest an Amazon ring at some point, but haven’t found it. At that time, I was thinking of wearables for text-to-speech, but now it makes sense that it’s Alexa….which does include text-to-speech.

Well, that’s the first three items! A lot more to come…not sure when I’ll get to them. If you have questions or thoughts about these items, let me know by commenting on this post.

Special announcement: while I’m not seeing something specific from Amazon, this post

Michael Kozlowski’s excellent Good E Reader blog article

alerted me to the need to update older Kindles before October 2nd to continue to work smoothly. They can be updated after that, apparently, but this has happened before. See the article for more details.

I’m going to connect my older Kindles to Whispernet…I have at least one I very rarely connect.

Thanks, Good E Reader!

Here’s the update page:

Kindle Software Updates Page (at AmazonSmile*)


Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

 

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8 Responses to “Amazon Announcement Day 2019: maybe the best ever (Part 1: the wearables)”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    My Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) lost the ability to shop from the Kindle Store awhile back because I will not update it to the last version which caused major problems by making full justification the default spacing which is a nightmare when you have to use the larger font sizes. Up until now, I’ve still been able to download items from the cloud directly to the Kindle 3. I’m assuming after October 2, I’ll lose that last contact. I’m hoping I’ll still be able to make a directed download to my computer for the Kindle Keyboard devices. I don’t read from them as often since Amazon has finally upgraded the Voyage software to get rid of the default full page justification, but I will occasionally encounter a book that is unreadable on the Voyage but readable on a K3. My only real concern is what happens if the Kindle forgets the date. You can manually reset the time, but if there’s a way to reset the date, I haven’t found it. That means the “most recent” sorting mode will not work. It might also interfere with some games. I’m going to do a restart of both of my K3 devices that are only upgraded to 3.3 before the deadline. The third K3 is fully upgraded which means it should still work.

    The 5 way controller in the K3 is already seriously cracked due to the edge of my thumbnail hitting the same spot on the bottom of the outer ring a few too many times, so eventually the K3 will stop working altogether. I wish Amazon understood how much easier it is for those of us with familial tremor to control a physical keyboard and actual page turner buttons and home keys. Having to hit the exact spot on a touch screen is extremely difficult for us with shaky paws!

    My DX has not been able to contact the Kindle Cloud for awhile now even though I upgraded it as far as Amazon would allow. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with my unit or if Amazon has fully “sunsetted” that model. It’s so heavy and clunk I use it only for those books that contain graphics that are hard to read on a standard Kindle.

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      As of this afternoon on 10/04/19 I was still able to connect to the cloud and download a few books. One of my favorite authors, Kim Harrison, is finally writing another book in her Hollows series and has created a discussion group on Goodreads challenging us to reread all the books in the series leading up to the publication date. I’ve been wanting to reread the series anyway, so this gives me an incentive. I wanted to archive them on one of the older Kindles but was afraid it was too late. It wasn’t! I don’t know if this means that Amazon hasn’t fully made whatever change that requires an update or if it’s something not affected by the change.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        Good to know! It’s also possible your Kindle updated automatically.

        I enjoy that series…didn’t realize a new one was going to be released! It has some of the feel of early Stephanie Plum for me…although, you know, with supernatural creatures. 😉

  2. Sheryl Painter Says:

    Thank you so much for always providing so much useful information. You have been my best resource for years on all things kindle and amazon products. My question on echo buds…will it connect to my kindle fire through bluetooth for text to speech reading? I spend so many hours traveling listening to my books weekly, this would be so much nicer wirelessly.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sheryl!

      That’s an interesting question! Nothing says that it will connect to anything besides the Alexa app, but I would guess it will.

      If it won’t, though, can you get phone calls when you are commuting? If so, you won’t need your Fire…Alexa will read your Kindle books without having anything else handy. If that’s all you want it to do, I’d consider getting the Echo Auto. Anybody can buy them now, and I love ours! Well worth the $50…

      Echo Auto

  3. EJC Says:

    I wasn’t very interested in the new gadgets, but then I am rarely an early adopter. Echo Auto was an exception. I wanted her to read to me. Long commutes.

    I was however, thrilled to see Michael’s post about new updates for the older Kindles. I had a Kindle Keyboard that I loved that gave up the ghost after Amazon would sell them. I ended up with a paperwhite at that time. Afterwards, I bought a KK on a Woot deep sale (the no returns kind). It worked, mostly, but would not register. Every time an update came out I would try to update it to see if it would fix the problem. It usually would reject the updates. This time, it took the interim and new update and the best part, it registered! Yay! Happy Dance!

    Now if I could just stop textbook companies for making it harder to have portable e-textbooks, I would be a happy camper. Ever heard of an ebook you can only access on a website? That’s what some college bookstores are selling. Notes & highlights limited to less than 20%. I guess this is how they are combating piracy.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, EJC!

      That’s great that you could update it!

      Textbooks are tricky and always have been (well, at least for the past 30 years for sure). One reason they’ve been so expensive in physical form is the secondary market…they get resold a lot. A limit of 20% is actually not unusual, or it wasn’t last time I checked.

      Amazon has a textbook rental program…if one of the books is available that way, that can help:

      https://amzn.to/2LReWjf

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