- Amazon on Thursday announced a whole bevy of new Alexa-powered hardware, including a microwave, a car gadget, and a smart plug.
- The thing is, though, that some of Amazon’s buddies in the world of electronics manufacturing already offer Alexa-integrated devices in all those categories. That means Amazon is now competing with some of the partners showing it the most support.
- To be fair to Amazon, the world of smart-home appliances is growing fast and far from settled, and the retailer could simply be trying to show the rest of the market how it’s done.
- But if this is how Amazon treats its friends, I would hate to be its enemy.
If this is how Amazon treats its friends, I would hate to be its enemy.
On Thursday, Amazon unleashed a veritable barrage of new gadgetry, all powered by or integrated with its Alexa virtual assistant. The reveals ranged from routine updates to its Echo Dot and Echo Show speakers all the way to oddities like a $US60 microwave, a $US25 smart plug, and a $US50 Echo speaker for mounting on car dashboards.
It was a feeding frenzy for gadget blogs.
But to me, the most striking part of all the announcements was how seemingly willing the company now is to compete with the very same partners that helped its Alexa platform become as popular as it is.
A reason Amazon’s Alexa enjoys so much momentum is that it has become one of the premier standards in the fast-growing market for connected-home appliances. Since the original Amazon Echo launched in 2015, the retailer has successfully persuaded just about every major electronics manufacturer to produce Alexa-compatible gear, from refrigerators to thermostats to autos.
It’s something of a flywheel – the more Alexa gear a customer has, the more they want, in the interest of making sure all their appliances work with one another. It’s good for the manufacturers who have made Alexa compatibility a selling point. This dynamic is best, though, for Amazon, as its Alexa assistant spreads everywhere.
But now Amazon is signalling an increased willingness to compete with the very same manufacturers whose Alexa-powered gadgetry made it the pioneering platform it is today.
The $US60 AmazonBasics microwave with Alexa is going head-to-head with products like GE’s $US130 smart microwave. Manufacturers as far-ranging as Belkin, TP-Link, Samsung, and even Best Buy’s house brands offer smart plugs like Amazon’s new one. Even the Echo Auto car gadget is somewhat similar to a device made by Garmin.
It’s a familiar playbook for Amazon. Late last year, Amazon released the Cloud Cam, an Alexa-compatible security camera designed in-house, and then early this year, Amazon snapped up Ring, a startup making home-security systems – two moves that didn’t necessarily endear Amazon to other security companies.
Still, the market for smart-home stuff is small enough that there’s room for many companies to succeed. There are, after all, a lot of consumers relying on other platforms like Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri, and it’s not as though Amazon’s new hardware products will cater to them.
The risk for Amazon is that its expanding collection of in-house hardware products antagonizes other electronics and appliance makers so much that it drives them into the arms of rival-platform providers like Google or Apple.
It’s a balancing act that other hardware-software companies have tried, with varying degrees of success.
There’s a case to be made that Amazon is simply frustrated at the pace of development in smart-home electronics and taking matters into its own hands. In fact, Dave Limp, an Amazon senior vice president, said at the hardware launch event that the $US60 Alexa-integrated microwave was really a showpiece for a new, inexpensive processor it will sell to manufacturers, helping them make even their lowest-end products Alexa-enabled.
But at the same time, it’s hard to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt here. This is a company renowned for its ruthlessness in entering and dominating new markets, and there are no signs it’s stopping anytime soon.
Besides, Amazon has the greatest lever of all: Given the increased importance of its retail business – both online and in the real world – it’s in these electronics manufacturers’ interest to stay cozied up to Amazon.
It’s a heck of a lever for helping keep your partners on board even while you’re building products that directly compete with their core businesses.
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