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PARTNERS BUILD ALEXA DEVICES TO FILL IN AMAZON’S GAPS: A number of companies announced new Alexa-powered smart speakers and other voice-enabled devices for the home at the IFA 2018 trade show in Berlin last week. Most of the new entrants to the market offer capabilities, functions, and form factors that differ from those of Amazon’s own Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers, adding variety to the growing Alexa ecosystem and helping the e-commerce giant to expand its role in the smart speaker space.

Here’s a look at some of the most promising Alexa-enabled devices announced at IFA 2018:

  • Huawei announced the AI Cube, a 4G-enabled home router with Alexa. The device will function as a smart speaker powered by Alexa, but it will also include a 4G sim card slot that allows the user to leverage a mobile network to power their home Wi-Fi, according to The Verge. The speaker will be released in Europe around the holiday season. However, there are no current plans to release it in the US, due to Huawei’s issues with the federal government.
  • Netgear announced the Orbi Voice router, a home mesh networking Wi-Fi router that includes Alexa voice capabilities. It can work in concert with other routers in a home to provide reinforcing network coverage. In a departure from most smart speakers, it is meant to be placed against a wall, with its speakers facing forward rather than operating at 360 degrees. The device will go on sale this month for $300.
  • Libratone updated its Zipp portable speakers to include Alexa. The new versions of the battery-powered speakers sport Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity options, as well as the voice-activated AI assistant. They’ll offer up to about 12 hours of battery life — which likely means they have some specialized microphones and controller hardware inside to minimize the impact of the always-listening assistant. The devices will available in October starting at €279 ($360).

Though Amazon didn’t design or build any of these devices, they’re all fitting into the wider strategy it’s pursuing with Alexa. Amazon wants to build a voice ecosystem through Alexa and its smart speakers. That’s why it’s been working with partners for years to develop third-party Alexa devices, and why it has been willing to cut the prices of its own Echo devices regularly or bundle them with other products. The e-commerce leader has spent a number of years setting the stage for partners to take to Alexa and use it in a variety of different ways. Because of this, Amazon doesn’t need to design its own devices to meet every potential need; instead, it can let a partner try out the market with an Alexa-enabled device and fill the gaps. Amazon still gets the benefits of a larger Alexa installed base, as consumers can use these devices to leverage Amazon services and purchase goods through its e-commerce platform. Essentially, by getting Alexa into more third-party devices, Amazon can increase the number of touchpoints that draw a user back into its ecosystem without much effort.

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