Amazon’s Hearables are Coming
Bloomberg reported yesterday that Amazon is in the midst of developing its first wearable – an ear-worn Alexa device. In other words, Amazon is about to go head-to-head with AirPods in the second half of this year when the company releases its Alexa earbuds. So, by the second half of this year, we’ll have four of the major smart assistant providers, Apple, Samsung, Google and Amazon, all competing for our ears with each’s own truly wireless headphones.
Make no doubt about it, while Amazon’s first wearable will initially start out as nothing more than wireless earbuds with some smarts and Alexa built-in, they will evolve into full-fledged ear-computers. The device is being developed inside of Amazon’s Lab126, it’s hardware division, which is full of ex-Doppler Labs engineers and employees. This was reported by Fast Company and then confirmed to me yesterday by KR Liu, former VP of Advocacy and Accessibility at Doppler. Doppler Labs, if you recall, was one of the first hearables manufacturers and a pioneer of shaping the idea of how an “ear-computer” should look, feel and function. Many of the brains behind the Doppler Here One are now working on Amazon’s device, as well as working at Google, Apple and Facebook. I would not be surprised at all to learn the same from many of the people who were working on Bragi’s hardware line too, which shut down this week.
I’m in the process of writing a comprehensive recap of all the hearables news that came out in the first quarter of 2019 (there was a ton) for Voicebot.ai, so be on the lookout for that piece as I will be adding more commentary to Amazon’s Alexa-buds news in that article. Today, however, I want to shed a light on the fact that when this blog first started in the fall of 2017, the field was full of startups, like Bragi and Doppler Labs, and the recently introduced AirPods. Flash-forward to today and the field is filling up with all the tech giants, while Bragi and Doppler have fallen by the wayside.
On one hand, this bums me out as I hate to think these tech giants are so large that no hardware startup can compete (and to be clear, there are multiple hearable companies alive and well), but on the other, I’m encouraged by the fact that many of the visionaries who were pioneering the hearables space forward are now the brains behind the tech giants’ offerings. What’s becoming obvious is that while the past few years of the VoiceFirst focus was largely around the far-field – smart speaker and smart displays – 2019 and beyond is shaping up to be all about the near-field with our miniature ear-computers. The ear is the hottest piece of real-estate in all of tech right now and due to the fierce competition for our ears, we should see a flood of innovation injected into the industry as each smart assistant provider competes to put its assistant right in our ears.
-Thanks for Reading-