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Why Amazon is making a bunch of bizarre Alexa gadgets such as prescription glasses and jewelry

Key Points
  • Amazon announces several new hardware products powered by Alexa at an event in Seattle on Wednesday.
  • Many of those products are expected iterations on current popular devices, like new Echo speakers and a pair of Alexa wireless earbuds.
  • But there are also several bizarre devices, such as Alexa smart glasses and an Alexa ring that you wear on your finger.
  • While those products may seem strange, they demonstrate Amazon's desire to maintain its lead in AI voice assistants.
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First look at Amazon's new Echo Buds, Echo Loop ring and Echo Frame glasses

For the second year in a row, Amazon announced a slew of new Alexa-enabled hardware products Wednesday ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Many of the products are natural extensions of the Echo and Alexa brands. There's a new Echo speaker with improved sound and a pair of wireless earbuds with Alexa built in, for example.

Makes sense.

But then there is the crazy stuff such as prescription glasses, a bulky black ring that lets you interact with Alexa and even a smart oven. Amazon dedicated an entire day to put Alexa into everything but the kitchen sink. (Don't worry. The Echo Sink is probably coming next year.)

But as bizarre as those products may seem, they represent the strategy that made the original Echo such a hit. After whiffing on its experiment to build a smartphone, Amazon started offering the Echo to Prime members on an invitation-only basis. And the reception was extremely positive.

Eventually, the Echo opened up to everyone and spurred spinoff products such as the Echo Dot, Echo Show and Echo Spot. Today, Amazon dominates the smart-speaker category it brought to the mainstream with more than 25% market share, according to a report from Canalys. (Apple, which didn't launch the HomePod until early 2018, didn't even rank in the Canalys report.)

So it's Amazon's game to lose now, and the company launched a bunch of wild products with hopes of striking gold again. Does that mean people are going to start talking to their fingers for information from Alexa? Probably not. The same goes for Amazon's new glasses. These are just experiments, and anyone who orders one of those new products will effectively be one of Amazon's new real-world beta testers as the company seeks its next hardware hit.

Just look at the products announced at last year's event. The Echo Auto, a speaker that adds Alexa capabilities to your car, only recently became available. And those who have tried the Echo Auto were not impressed. The Verge's review of the Echo Auto said, "Amazon has put remarkably little effort into improving the things you might actually want Alexa to do from a car" and gave it a score of five out of 10. Other products, such as that Alexa-powered microwave, haven't taken off either.

That's probably fine. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said three years ago the tech world is still in the "first inning" of AI smart assistants, which means the company is likely to keep up this public experimentation for many more years to come. Meanwhile, Amazon has plenty of proven products to keep updating and improving.

The most important takeaway from Wednesday's announcements is that Amazon is determined not to give up its lead in voice-controlled computing, and it's willing to release a bunch of bizarre and unconventional products to keep that position.