In week of upgrades and expansions, Amazon’s Alexa is on the road again, expanding its partnership with Ford to ride shotgun with more drivers. And Alexa is also being pitched more directly to younger users with the release of the latest Echo Show 5 device explicitly programmed for kids with special access to content piped directly in.
All plays, it seems to make Alexa part of day-to-day life for consumers of all ages, wherever they are or wherever they’re on the way to.
Echo Show Shows Up For Kids
It’s never too early to start building brand loyalty, as demonstrated this week by Amazon as it rolled out the latest iterations of its Echo Show devices, one of which is pitched directly at children.
The newly launching Echo Show 8 comes with an 8-inch HD screen, 13-megapixel wide-angle camera, dual stereo speakers and a host of new capabilities like panning and zoom to ensure users stay centered in the frame during video calls. And users can now take those video calls from Zoom, as it is now compatible with Alexa. The price for the latest and greatest in Show tech is available for preorder today, ships in June and comes with a sticker price of $129.99.
And while it’s a fine upgrade meant to make the show more compatible with consumers’ new work-from-home lifestyle, the perhaps more interesting release is the smaller, less expensive Echo Show 5, with a 5.5-inch display. That Show 5 also comes in a model for kids that costs a bit more than the approximately $85 regular model (about $95) but comes preloaded with special kid themes, and support for video calls from contacts approved by parents. The Echo Show kids edition also comes with a trial membership to Amazon Kids+, which offers a variety of entertainment and education content.
“With these new Echo Show devices, we focused on communications,” Tom Taylor, senior vice president for Amazon Alexa, said in a statement.
Like the Show 8, the new editions of the Show 5 are now available for pre-order and will ship later this month.
In the short term, the latest upgrades to the Alexa line will likely stimulate some new commerce, as consumers across the board get more used to interacting and transacting via the medium. But Amazon’s focus on kids is interesting and is something that sets it apart from the competing set of products programmed to the Google Assistant, which doesn’t sport a line of child-centric hardware. And while it might not be something that will much move connected commerce today, as children’s accounts are generally quite limited in terms of how much commerce can be transacted for them, it could end up making quite a bit of difference down the line as a generation of children who grew up talking to Alexa might will very likely want to carry on that conversation — and carry it forward into stores, on the go and even as they get into the car.
Speaking of the car …
Ford’s Alexa Upgrade
Access to Alexa in a Ford is not exactly a new feature — it was first introduced in 2017 — but doing so was a bit of a festival of friction requiring a vehicle that was compatible with at least the company’s Sync 3 infotainment system, and installing Ford’s AppLink software on the user’s smartphone.
Not impossible conditions, but slightly annoying ones that were often just enough resistance to cancel out the usability of the feature for consumers that might otherwise have been interested in it.
Such resistance will likely be dropping off now that Ford has announced an upgrade to the Alexa Sync-4 system in the U.S. and Canada called the “Power-Up program.” Once installed, consumers won’t need Ford’s AppLink software to access Alexa in their car, in an attempt to make leveraging voice tech behind the wheel “friction and hands-free” the company said. As before, with the FordPass skill, users can also ask the voice assistant to do things like start and stop the car, as well as lock and unlock the doors, now more easily than before.
The Alexa upgrade will come to 700,000 vehicles in North America, with more cars in Europe and other parts of the world to follow.
The upgrade will be free, for at least three years, though after that time frame “fees may apply.” Cars will also need to have “FordPass Connect, which is an optional add-on meaning not every Ford will be compatible with the upgrade.
The new deal, according to reports, kicks off a six-year partnership between Amazon and Ford that will see the two firms co-developing new features and Alexa skills as cars roll out off the line ready to interact with consumers, care of Alexa.
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