Amazon today announced the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit (AMAK). In a blog post this morning, Amazon senior product manager Gagan Luthra stated:
The Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit [is] a new way to bring Alexa to portable, on-the-go devices such as hearables, headphones, smart watches, fitness devices, and more. The kit enables OEMs to add Alexa to their devices with minimum investment in hardware or integration efforts.
Alexa is embedded in many third-party devices such as smart speakers and appliances that have wireless connectivity, but this is the first toolkit that aids in developing integration with Bluetooth. One of the few product examples that preceded the AMAK is the PRO Voice headphones from 66 Audio. The developers of that product recounted their challenge in integrating Alexa in a recent FastCompany article.
Bringing Alexa to More Mobile Devices
An Amazon spokesperson said that 66 Audio will soon be joined by Bose, Jabra, iHome, Linkplay, Sugr, Librewireless, Beyerdynamic, Bowers and Wilkins, and others that are currently working with AMAK. Brian Maguire, director of product management at Bose commented:
Accessing Alexa’s music, information, and vast number of skills on our headphones will become easier than ever, and we’re looking forward to bringing our collaboration to life.
Bose already has Google Assistant support in two Bluetooth devices: the SoundSport Free earbuds and QuietComfort 35 II noise canceling headphones. It is good news for Amazon that Alexa will soon find a home in Bose products. Access to AMAK is currently limited to a developer preview. You can fill out a form to receive a notification when it will be made generally available.
The Rise of the Near-Field
Amazon’s timing for AMAK is excellent. Almost all voice assistant interactions before 2016 were executed through the near-field microphones embedded in smartphones. Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo line of products changed that and helped make 2017 the year of the smart speaker. Smart speakers enable far-field voice recognition at a distance of meters as opposed to centimeters. While smart speakers still have a long way to go and will continue to have high sales volume, 2018 will be the year near-field voice interaction will make a comeback. Consumers that are now accustomed to using voice interactions at home will increasingly use them on-the-go. That means wearables and Bluetooth devices should see a similar pattern of voice assistant integration that we saw in 2017 for wireless speakers.
Apple has shown what can be done with Siri in the near-field through iPhone, AirPods and Watch. Siri still needs to get smarter (Read: Apple Should Do These 3 Things in 2018 to Make Siri Better for Everyone) even though the hardware is excellent. That provides an opening for Alexa. The lack of a smartphone platform puts Amazon at a bit of a disadvantage to Apple Siri and Google Assistant. However, AMAK should eliminate one point of friction for developers looking to support the very popular Alexa assistant. The announcement coming just a couple of days before the start of CES suggests that we may even see a few of those new Alexa-enabled products next week.