Amazon Reportedly Developing Echo With Better Sound Quality to Rival Apple HomePod and Other Speakers

Amazon is developing a higher-quality version of its popular Echo smart speaker, according to a new report today by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman.

Prototypes of the cylindrical speaker are wider than the current Echo to squeeze in additional components including at least four tweeters, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter.
The speaker is reportedly being developed to include improved audio to rival Apple's HomePod and other competing speakers on the market. According to Gurman, the Echo has lost some ground to more premium smart speakers that are marketed as offering superior sound.
The Echo, which went on sale in 2015, will grab 63% of the U.S. market this year, according to EMarketer. But it has lost some ground to the Sonos One, Apple Inc. HomePod and Google Home Max -- all of which claim to deliver superior audio. Google now has 31% of the market, while the rest have a combined 12%. The HomePod isn't selling as well as Apple expected, and the company recently dropped the price.
The development of a higher-quality Echo marks a new phase in Amazon's attempt to gain ground in the smart speaker segment. The company has previously introduced halfway-house solutions to improve the audio of the existing cylindrical Echo by offering a standalone subwoofer and connections to link the speakers to a hi-fi stereo system. The Echo range will also receive minor updates this fall, people familiar with the plans told Bloomberg.

Amazon also reportedly plans to launch a hi-fidelity version of its music streaming service by the end of the year.

In addition, Gurman's report includes details on Amazon's effort to ramp up work on its home robot, which has wheels and can be controlled by Alexa voice commands.

People familiar with the project have reportedly described prototypes that are about waist-high and navigate with the help of an array of computer-vision cameras, but it still isn't clear what purpose the robot would serve.

Amazon originally intended to reveal the robot, known internally as "Vesta," as early as this year, but the machine isn't quite ready for mass production, according to the report.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

This article, "Amazon Reportedly Developing Echo With Better Sound Quality to Rival Apple HomePod and Other Speakers" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

Amazon Reveals ‘Echo Show 5’ With New Design and Alexa Commands for Deleting Voice Recordings

Amazon today announced the Echo Show 5, the latest Echo device with a 5.5-inch display, more compact design, and privacy-focused voice controls for Alexa. Echo Show 5 is priced at $89.99 and is set to launch on June 26, 2019.

Amazon's Echo Show devices have speakers and a touchscreen, aimed at letting customers watch the news via apps like NBC and Reuters, look at the weather, or make video calls. Echo Show 5 continues this idea, and Amazon even pointed out that you can use the device to listen to music via Apple Music, thanks to recent integration.


Like other Echo devices, Echo Show 5 can also act as a smart home hub so that you can say things like "Alexa, turn on the lights," or use on-screen display controls to adjust brightness levels. Smart camera feeds can be viewed on the display, as well as thermostat levels and more. Echo Show 5 also supports two-way talk functionality with Ring doorbell cameras.

If you use the Echo Show 5 as an alarm clock, the device's display will naturally brighten and show a sunrise animation before the alarm goes off. At that time, you can set a routine that displays the weather forecast for the day, the morning news, and more on the Echo Show 5 screen.
“Since we launched the first Echo Show device, customers have told us they love asking Alexa to show them things—whether it’s a recipe for banana bread, their shopping list, or music lyrics. With Echo Show 5, we’ve made it even easier and affordable for customers to add a smart display to every room of their house,” said Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa.

“The compact form factor is perfect for a bedside table or desk, plus it has a camera shutter for added peace of mind, and new Alexa privacy features for even more control.”
When not in use, you can set personal photos to act as a home screen on the Echo Show 5, or connect to Facebook to play a slideshow of photos as a screensaver. Echo Show 5 can connect to family members who own an Echo Spot or Echo Show, have the Alexa mobile app, or use Skype. Within the same house, if you own multiple Alexa devices you can also use the drop-in feature to quickly speak to other Alexa speakers.

In terms of privacy, Amazon touched on a variety of security options in its announcement today. First, the company pointed out that Echo Show 5 includes a microphone/camera off button that electronically disconnects both the microphone and camera, along with a visual indicator that shows when audio or video is streaming to the cloud. The device also has a camera shutter so you can easily cover the camera.


Second, Amazon has introduced an easy way to delete your voice recordings on all of your Alexa devices: you can say, "Alexa, delete everything I said today." Afterwards, the company will delete the respective recordings. In the near future, you'll be able to delete your last request by saying, "Alexa, delete what I just said."

The Echo Show 5 is available to pre-order today in Charcoal and Sandstone for $89.99. The device will then launch in June in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. India will see a launch in July, and Mexico will come at a later date.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.


This article, "Amazon Reveals 'Echo Show 5' With New Design and Alexa Commands for Deleting Voice Recordings" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

Alexa Now Supports Apple Music in Australia and New Zealand on Echo, Sonos, and Fire TV Devices

Alexa now supports Apple Music in Australia and New Zealand on Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV devices, and compatible Sonos speakers, as reflected in a recently updated Apple support document.


This means Apple Music subscribers who own one of those devices in those countries can now ask Alexa to play songs, artists, playlists, and more from Apple Music. This functionality first launched in the United States in December before expanding to the United Kingdom and Ireland last month.

Read our guide on how to set up Apple Music in the Alexa app, including how to make it the default music service so that you don't have to say "on Apple Music" each time you ask Alexa to play something.

(Thanks, Brad!)


This article, "Alexa Now Supports Apple Music in Australia and New Zealand on Echo, Sonos, and Fire TV Devices" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

‘Alexa Guard’ Security Feature Rolls Out to Amazon Echo Devices in the US

Amazon announced this morning that Alexa Guard is now rolling out to all Echo device owners in the U.S.


The free feature update, which has been trialed by a select few over the last few months, turns Echo speakers into security devices when no-one's home by allowing them to listen for key sounds indicating danger or intrusion.

Users need to say "Alexa, I'm leaving" to set Alexa Guard to Away mode, after which the device will listen for sounds like breaking glass and the sound of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

According to TechCrunch, Amazon has worked with licensed contractors to break hundreds of different glass windows with different instruments in order to create a wide range of different sounds for Alexa to listen for.

Upon detecting an ominous sound, Alexa sends the owner Smart Alerts via phone notifications. Users can also play the detected sound from the Alexa mobile app or Drop In on their Echo device remotely to find out what's happening.

Alexa can arm a Ring or ADT security system, with the user able to choose to forward Smart Alerts they receive to Ring or ADT. Users with Away Lighting can also use the alert to turn on lights so as to make it look like they're actually home.

For more details about Alexa Guard, check out Amazon's FAQ.


This article, "'Alexa Guard' Security Feature Rolls Out to Amazon Echo Devices in the US" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

Employees Who Listen to Amazon Alexa Requests Have Access to Customers’ Home Addresses

Earlier this month, Bloomberg shared details on the thousands of employees that Amazon employs around the world to listen to voice recordings captured in the homes of Amazon Echo owners when the Alexa wake word is spoken, with the purpose of improving the service.

There was some concerning information in the report, including employee access to private recordings, recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal, and an employee tendency to share private recordings in group work chat environments. As it turns out, there's something Alexa owners should be even more worried about -- some of these employees have access to the home addresses of Amazon customers.


In a new report on the team Amazon employs to listen to Amazon Echo recordings, Bloomberg says that employees have access to location data and can "easily find a customer's home address" by typing geographic coordinates into third-party mapping software. The new information was shared by five anonymous Amazon employees who spoke to Bloomberg.
Team members with access to Alexa users' geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

While there's no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device's owner.
Bloomberg saw a demonstration where an Amazon team member pasted a user's coordinates (stored on Amazon's servers as latitude and longitude) into Google Maps, finding the address for the user linked to the recording in less than a minute. It's not clear how many people are able to access that system, though two Amazon employees said that until recently, the "vast majority" of workers in the Alexa Data Services group could use the software.

Certain employees on the data team listening to recordings have access to home and work addresses for customers along with phone numbers and access to their contacts if the person has chosen to share contacts with Alexa, all for the purpose of improving requests.

That employees can access specific location data for an individual customer is concerning because after the original report, Amazon had this to say: "Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow."

In a new statement provided to Bloomberg, Amazon said something different, calling access to internal tools "highly controlled."
In a new statement responding to this story, Amazon said "access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible."
Amazon, says Bloomberg, appears to be restricting the level of access that employees have to sensitive customer data, and after the original story, some of the workers who transcribe and annotate audio recordings no longer had access to software tools they had previously used.

Alexa users concerned with the data that's being collected and used by Amazon should make sure to enable all privacy features and uncheck the option for letting Amazon save Echo recordings.


This article, "Employees Who Listen to Amazon Alexa Requests Have Access to Customers' Home Addresses" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

Thousands of Amazon Employees Listen to Alexa Requests for Improvement Purposes

Amazon has thousands of employees around the world that listen to voice recordings captured in the homes of Amazon Echo owners, reports Bloomberg.

Recordings are listened to, transcribed, annotated, and added back into the software as part of Amazon's effort to help Alexa better respond to voice commands. Amazon has facilities for Alexa improvement in places that range from Boston to Costa Rica, India, and Romania.


Seven people familiar with Amazon's review process spoke to Bloomberg and revealed some insider details on the program that may be concerning to Echo users.

While much of the work has been described as "mundane," employees have sometimes come across more private recordings, such as a woman singing off key in the shower or a child screaming for help. Amazon employees have internal chat rooms where they share files when help is needed parsing a word or, more concerning, when an "amusing recording" is found.

Two workers told Bloomberg that they've heard recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal, and while Amazon claims to have procedures in place for such occurrences, some employees have been told it's not the company's job to interfere.
Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress. Amazon says it has procedures in place for workers to follow when they hear something distressing, but two Romania-based employees said that, after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere.
Alexa users have the option to disable the use of their voice recordings for improvements to the service, but some may not know that these options exist. Amazon also does not make it clear that actual people are listening to the recordings.

According to Bloomberg, recordings sent to employees who work on Alexa don't include a user's full name or address, but an account number, first name, and the device's serial number are associated with the recording.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon said that an "extremely small" number of Alexa voice recordings are annotated and that there are measures in place to protect user identity.
We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.

We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it.
It is standard practice to use some recordings for product improvement. Apple has employees who listen to Siri queries to make sure the interpretation of a request lines up with what the person said. Recordings are stripped of identifiable information, however, and stored for six months with a random identifier.

Google too has employees who are able to access audio snippets from Google Assistant for the purpose of improving the product, but Google, like Apple, removes personally identifiable information and also distorts audio.

Amazon does not appear to be removing all personally identifiable information, and while the Echo is meant to collect audio only when a wake word is spoken, the employees who spoke to Bloomberg said they often hear audio files that appear to have started recording with no wake word at all.

Alexa users concerned with the data that's being collected and used by Amazon should make sure to enable all privacy features and uncheck the option for letting Amazon save Echo recordings. Additional details on how Amazon uses the voice recordings it collects can be found in the original Bloomberg article.


This article, "Thousands of Amazon Employees Listen to Alexa Requests for Improvement Purposes" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

HomePod Estimated to Have Just 4% Market Share Worldwide Despite 45% Sales Growth Last Quarter

HomePod shipments totaled 1.6 million units in the fourth quarter of 2018, a 45 percent increase on a year-over-year basis, according to Strategy Analytics. Despite the growth, the research firm estimates that Apple's share of the worldwide smart speaker market was just 4.1 percent during the quarter.


By comparison, Amazon and Google commanded the market with an estimated 13.7 million and 11.5 million smart speakers shipments respectively. The two companies combined for an estimated 65.5 percent market share in the quarter.


A lot of this comes down to pricing. At $349, the HomePod is significantly more expensive than the Amazon Echo and Google Home. In particular, the smaller Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini models were available for as low as $25 during the holiday season, a fraction of the cost of a HomePod.

"Amazon and Google both have broad model lineups, ranging from basic to high-end, with even more variants from Amazon. Apple of course has only its premium-priced HomePod, and likely won't gain significant share until it offers an entry-level product closer to Echo Dot and Home mini," CIRP co-founder Josh Lowitz said last month.

To improve sales, many resellers offered the HomePod for $249 during the holiday season, and $279 is a commonly seen price too.

Second is the fact that the HomePod is not so smart, as many reviews found, due to Siri's shortcomings compared to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple recently restructured its Siri team as it works to make improvements.

A third reason is availability. Apple launched the HomePod two to three years after its largest competitors, and sales remain limited to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, China, and Hong Kong. Amazon and Google smart speakers are available in more countries.

Last year, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple was "mulling" a "low-cost version" of the HomePod, potentially due to shipments falling "far below market expectations." It could end up being a Siri-enabled Beats speaker.

Of course, the Strategy Analytics data is estimated to begin with. Apple does not disclose HomePod sales, instead grouping the speaker under its "Wearables, Home, and Accessories" category in its earnings reports alongside the Apple Watch, Apple TV, AirPods, Beats, iPod touch, and other accessories.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

This article, "HomePod Estimated to Have Just 4% Market Share Worldwide Despite 45% Sales Growth Last Quarter" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

Amazon Pulls Echo Wall Clock Over Connectivity Issues

Amazon has pulled its Echo Wall Clock over concerns about connectivity issues, just a little over a month since it began shipping the product.


The Wall Clock's lack of availability on the Amazon website was first spotted by The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern before being confirmed by Amazon in a statement given to The Verge.
"We're aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We're working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks."
Announced in September along with several other Alexa-enabled products, Amazon's Wall Clock costs $29.99 and performs the expected Alexa and Echo tasks while also telling the time.

It runs on four AA batteries and connects to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for setup, but requires the user to own a standard Echo to access all the features, which include displaying timers on the clock face.

Customers who received a clock before they were delisted and have experienced connectivity issues are advised to contact Amazon to arrange a refund.


This article, "Amazon Pulls Echo Wall Clock Over Connectivity Issues" first appeared on MacRumors.com

Discuss this article in our forums

Apple Music Now Playable on Amazon Echo Speakers via Alexa in United States

Apple Music can now be streamed on Amazon Echo speakers via Alexa in the United States, a few days ahead of schedule.


As spotted by 9to5Mac, it is now possible to link Apple Music with your Amazon account in the Alexa app for iPhone and use Alexa voice commands to control playback of songs, playlists, and Beats 1 on Apple Music on Amazon Echo speakers.

To access this feature, simply use a voice command such as "Alexa, play music by Ed Sheeran on Apple Music" or "Alexa, play today's hits on Apple Music." Apple Music can also be set as the default music service in the Alexa app, so that "Apple Music" does not need to be specified each time.


Other streaming music services supported on Echo speakers include Spotify, Deezer, Vevo, SiriusXM, Tidal, and Pandora.

Apple and Amazon announced this new partnership in late November, with Amazon saying it is "committed to offering great music providers to our customers," and referring to Apple Music as "one of the most popular music services."

Apple Music playback on Amazon Echo speakers is currently limited to the United States.


Discuss this article in our forums

Apple Music to Launch on Amazon’s Echo Devices the Week of December 17

Apple and Amazon today announced that Apple Music will launch on Echo devices beginning the week of December 17. In a blog post, Amazon explains that Apple Music subscribers will be able to ask Alexa to play their favorite songs, artist, playlists, Beats1 radio stations, and albums, all through an Echo speaker.

One example they give is the command, "Alexa, play Bebe Rexha on Apple Music."


The integration will launch as an Apple Music skill that will need to be enabled within the Alexa app, where users will also be able to link their account to start listening to Apple Music on an Echo speaker. Apple Music will join the ranks of a few other music streaming services already supported on Echo, including Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora.
“Music is one of the most popular features on Alexa—since we launched Alexa four years ago, customers are listening to more music in their homes than ever before,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president, Amazon Devices.

“We are committed to offering great music providers to our customers and since launching the Music Skill API to developers just last month, we’ve expanded the music selection on Alexa to include even more top tier services. We’re thrilled to bring Apple Music – one of the most popular music services in the US – to Echo customers this holiday.”
Apple Music is said to have over 56 million total subscribers, including those on the free trial. The company is in a battle with Spotify as each tries to grow their numbers. In November, Spotify reported 87 million paid subscribers on its service, and 191 million monthly active users.

These numbers refer to global paid subscriber users, and in a report over the summer it was suggested that Apple Music is actually ahead of Spotify's paid subscriber count in the United States. Both Apple Music and Spotify were said to have more than 20 million paid subscribers in the U.S. as of July 2018, and at the time Apple was "a hair ahead" of its rival.


Discuss this article in our forums