Amazon's Alexa and FireTV software are expanding to even more products.
Amazon on Wednesday announced a slew of new products with its Alexa voice assistant and Fire TV software built-in. Some, like a new version of last year's Fire TV Cube, are made by Amazon. And several third-party manufacturers announced their own living room devices running Amazon's services.
At the CES 2019 trade show, Amazon began to demonstrate how it's working with other companies to put Alexa into other smart devices, and now it's showing it can do the same with its Fire TV software as it expands partnerships to companies who will build and sell Fire TV devices in Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom.
The new version of the Fire TV Cube is up to two times faster than last year's model. The first Fire TV Cube launched last July. Like its predecessor, the new model lets you control your TV, cable box and other inputs using just your voice. That means you can walk into the room and say "Alexa, tune to ESPN on cable" and the Fire TV Cube will pull up ESPN on cable TV. It also works with streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV and more.
The new Fire TV Cube's performance boost is thanks to a new processor, which should help cut down on lag when moving between apps. It also now locally processes basic Alexa requests for things like increasing the volume or returning to the home screen, instead of sending those requests to the cloud first. That should make those responses up to four times faster, Amazon says. The design is the same as last year's model.
"The design is the same because it's worked well in terms of microphone array and layout," Amazon's vice president of product development for Fire TV Sandeep Gupta told CNBC, referring to the box's ability to listen to voice commands. "Local voice control has a subset of commands that are critical and cut out the cloud part so if we recognize [a command] it can just execute it immediately," he said.
Gupta told CNBC that Amazon has found Fire TV Cube owners are much more likely to interact using voice than other Fire TV product owners.
"We get eight times the usage of voice than we do in other devices," he said. "We see almost 80% of Fire TV Cube users using it for device automation and smart home devices," he said.
The new Fire TV Cube costs $119.99 in the U.S., the same price as the original model. Pre-orders open on Wednesday in the U.S. and, for the first time, in Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan. It will ship on Oct. 10 in the U.S., United Kingdom and Germany and on Nov. 5 in Japan.
Amazon also announced a slew of products with Fire TV software and Amazon Alexa built-in, which will be sold by its partners.
That includes Anker's new Nebula soundbar, which has support for Fire TV built-in so you don't need a separate device to stream video. Like the Fire TV Cube, it includes voice support, so you can ask Alexa to control your device. It sounds a lot like a similar product announced by Roku Wednesday morning. The Nebula Soundbar from Anker will cost $229.99 in the U.S. and ships Nov. 21, but customers can pre-order it now. It will also be available in Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Amazon also said that it is partnering with Dixons Carphone, MediaMarktSaturn's IMTRON and Grundig, which will all begin to sell new Fire TV Edition smart TVs. Prior to Wednesday, Amazon sold Fire TV Edition televisions with Toshiba and Best Buy's Insignia brand in the U.S.
IMTRON's Fire TV Edition smart TVs will be sold under the private label brand "ok" in Germany and Austria. Grundig will sell a total of 11 models including two OLED model TVs under the "Fire OLED TV - Fire TV Edition Hands-Free with Alexa" branding and two without hands-free support. Hands-free offers Alexa for voice controls without the need for a remote. It will also sell the Grundig Vision 7 with 4K Ultra HD and Vision 6 TVs with 1080p support. Those will also be sold in Germany and Austria. Pricing and release will vary by model and size.
Finally, Amazon is partnering with Dixon's Carphone and JVC to sell JVC Fire TV Edition Smart Ultra HD HDR LED TVs in the United Kingdom in 40-inch, 49-inch and 55-inch screen sizes. They will ship with a voice remote that includes Alexa for controlling the TV, but they don't have microphones built-in like the Fire TV Cube or the sets from Grundig.