Amazon announce BMW deal, new Echo devices

Amazon has announced a new deal with BMW to place virtual assistant Alexa in the firm's cars, extending its reach beyond the home.

Alongside the technology firm's unveiling of new Echo smart home devices, BMW announced Alexa integration that will enable drivers of the German firm's cars to interact with the assistant.

Alexa-powered visual cards will appear on in-car displays in BMW and some Mini vehicles from the middle of 2018, the two firms said.

BMW's Dieter May said: "By making this step and integrating Alexa into our models from 2018, BMW and MINI will form a more intrinsic part of our customers' digital lifestyles.

"Voice control first featured in BMW Group cars many years ago, and we are now enhancing its functionality by adding a digital ecosystem which will open up all sorts of new possibilities that customers can access quickly, easily and safely from their car."

The firm has had an Alexa Skill since 2016, but the new experience will enable users to ask for directions, check news stories and play music using voice controls.

"We are excited to work with BMW to bring the Alexa experience to their drivers," Amazon's Ned Curic said.

"Voice is a big part of the future, especially in cars. Using your voice to enjoy content and interact with your car makes a great driving experience even better. We can't wait for BMW customers to try this out."

New Echo devices

Amazon has unveiled a range of new Echo smart home devices, as the technology giant attempts to embed virtual assistant Alexa into homes.

A second generation of the Echo smart speaker, with a redesigned sound system and better voice recognition was among the announcements, alongside a new Echo Plus which automatically discovers and connects with smart lightbulbs and other products.

An alarm clock inspired Echo Spot, Bluetooth-connected Echo Buttons and the video screen-based Echo Show were also confirmed for the UK, alongside a new HDR and 4K enabled Fire TV.

The new Echo, now available to pre-order in the UK, has a dedicated woofer and tweeter for the first time to improve the audio output of the device.

The device, which comes in a new smaller form, also has improved far-field voice recognition and will be sold in a range of six different finishes for the first time.

The technology giant confirmed it will cost £89.99.

Amazon's Dave Limp said in the three years since the company launched the Echo and Alexa in the US, the firm said it had learned "voice and the ambient voice experience in the home is going to be ubiquitous".

Industry analyst Geoff Blaber from CCS Insight said Amazon's announcements confirmed the company's place at the front of the smart speaker market.

"For Amazon, hardware is a means to drive more consumption be it media or washing powder," he said.

"Software, developer and hardware announcements are all designed to deepen Amazon's role in our daily lives.

"Amazon is making a determined effort to consolidate its lead with Alexa as rivals such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung also chase the market opportunity.

"Amazon's first-to-market advantage is reaping clear dividends but its ability to price so aggressively is also a significant strength.

"Amazon has the momentum in the smart speaker and voice assistant space. It's clearly determined to maximise that advantage and use it to spearhead its move deeper into the home."

The new Echo Plus is being pitched as a more powerful version of the Echo, and automatically looks for and connects with other smart home devices around the home.

Amazon says that unlike the original Echo, consumers will not need to use Alexa apps or Skills to connect with smart light bulbs and other appliances, with the device automatically discovering devices when turned on.

As a result, users only need to vocally confirm to Alexa if they want to connect devices with the Echo.

The device also features the improved audio systems and Dolby sound that will appear in the second generation Echo.

Also among the announcements were Echo Buttons, small buttons that connect to an Echo via Bluetooth and can be used as game show-style buzzers for quiz games.

Mr Limp said he hoped the new accessory would help "bring back games night" for families.

A new version of the Fire TV streaming box was also announced, which will come with high dynamic range (HDR) and 4K support built in.

The technologies enable higher quality video playback.

Echo Show, the first Echo device to include a screen, was also confirmed for UK release.

The device features a seven inch display and can be used to display weather and news info, as well as video playback.

The device went on sale in the US earlier this year.

A further new Echo device, the Echo Spot, was also revealed. The small device has a 2.5-inch circular screen and has been designed to replace traditional alarm clocks but also has video calling capabilities.

It will be released in the UK early next year.

Amazon's wide range of new product announcements comes as the smart speaker and home hub market is set to become increasingly competitive.

Apple will launch its own smart speaker, the HomePod, in December, while Google launched its own Home speaker earlier this year.


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