Publication Date: 8/8/17 – In the U.S. discounts on Echo and Dot have outlasted Prime Day by a few weeks now, and there may be a good reason for that. Rumor has it a new Echo and Alexa whole home audio are on the way.
The Whole Home Audio Whispers
Earlier this week a German tech blog reported that Amazon has already made the necessary software changes to make Alexa whole home audio a reality, and now it’s just a question of when they’ll release the update. The blog post mentions a grouping feature that would allow for piping audio to some or all of the Alexa devices on your network simultaneously. For example, you might group your living room, den and kitchen Alexa devices so you could hear the same audio through all of them as you cook, clean, work on projects or relax, while any devices in the bedrooms or office remain silent.
First, Amazon knows this is a feature customers have wanted since day one.
Second, whole home audio is one of the few bragging rights Google Home has over Amazon’s Alexa devices, and it’s also a major selling point for Apple’s upcoming AirPlay2 and HomePod. The fewer reasons consumers have to choose a competitor product, the more securely Amazon sits atop the smart home throne.
Finally, there’s nothing in the existing Alexa software or service that poses any significant obstacles to whole home audio. The software update that brought Alexa messaging also made it possible for one Alexa device to communicate with another on the same network. Once that framework is in place, the door is wide open to direct streaming audio from one device to another, or to assign devices to groups.
Assuming this rumor is true, it seems likely Amazon will release the update ahead of Apple’s AirPlay2 release because AirPlay2 also provides multi-speaker, multi-room audio streaming functionality. Apple’s HomePod smart speaker isn’t due till December but AirPlay2 is scheduled to be released with iOS 11 this fall.
The Next-Gen Echo
It’s not surprising that Amazon would release an updated and improved version of the Echo, since that’s what they do with all their successful Amazon-branded devices. According to engadget, the next generation Echo is still cylindrical, but shorter and slimmer than the original. It’s also said to have superior audio quality, with added tweeters, as well as improved microphone performance and sensitivity. Finally, it’s said to have a fabric exterior. No word on other specs as of yet.
No speculation on a release date for the new device yet either, but if past history is any guide I’d guess the next gen Echo will be out within a couple months, or maybe even in a matter of weeks. Like I said at the start of this post, Amazon has been selling the first-gen Echo and the second gen Dot at inventory-clearing discounts since well beyond Prime Day, and that move on Amazon’s part usually signals a newer version is about to be released.