Amazon is reportedly working on its own pair of wireless earbuds to complement its sizable roster of Echo smart speakers and lining up a product that will compete directly with Apple’s Siri-enabled AirPods.
The audio device has not be officially announced, but Bloomberg reported this week that Amazon’s answer to the AirPods could be here in time for the holidays.
Ben Arnold, the senior director of innovation and trends at the Consumer Technology Association, tells Inverse that the wireless headphone war isn’t just the latest software/hardware race, it’s part of a strategy to get company’s voice assistants in the ears of more people than ever. That could be exactly what Alexa needs.
“We will begin to view wireless headphones almost like computing devices that you can offload tasks through voice and digital assistants,” he said. “They’re not just making them for audio, they’re making them to spread their digital assistants and to enable you to control your device with your voice.”
The global wireless headphones market is expected to be valued at $34 billion by 2024, according to market research released in January. Amazon could be trying to get on a ballooning market, but it’s most likely attempting to free Alexa from being locked away in homes.
Two-thirds of the smart speaker market share is taken up by Amazon. But the fact that Alexa is primarily used on speakers means that companies that offer built-in digital assistants on smartphones, like Apple and Google, have an edge.
There is a stand-alone Alexa app for both Android and Apple iOS devices, but it’s always going to be an interloper on your phone, as it faces the in-house Google Assistant for Pixel, Bixby for Samsung, or Siri for Apple. As there’s no Amazon phone anymore, Alexa-powered earbuds will mark Amazon’s renewed steps into mobile hardware with an Alexa brain.
Alexa is currently the third-most popular voice assistant in the United States, according to a 2018 VoiceBot.ai analysis of the industry. But releasing wireless earbuds with Alexa built-in could be the gateway device that gets tech consumers to adopt the voice assistant.
Amazon’s previous venture into mobile hardware with the Fire phone was a deemed a monumental “failure.” But an AirPods competitor could be the company’s ticket into the mobile industry.
Amazon AirPods: Release Date
Amazon has not confirmed that this product even exists, so there are no signs of an official release date. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman spoke to people familiar with the matter who said they could be here as early as the second half of 2019.
A release date late in the year would allow the product to go up against the AirPods during the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holidays that follow. Amazon famously offers deep price cuts during the season, which could be a shrewd move to one-up Apple that very rarely offers discounts.
Amazon AirPods: Price
Based on the company’s past pricing strategies, it’s very likely that Amazon’s earbuds will cost less than Apple’s $159 AirPods. Plus, if they do end up on the market Amazon will almost certainly include them in Prime deals and bundles for cheap.
Amazon AirPods: Design
Gurman’s report states that Amazon’s buds will “Mirror” the AirPods and will be designed to rest inside users’ ears, without an ear hook or clip. This suggests the could end up looking strikingly similar to the AirPods, but it’s unclear if Amazon will copy Apple’s earbud silhouette verbatim.
The company could make them look like tiny Echo Dot that come in multiple colors and have the Alexa symbol printed somewhere on them.
Amazon AirPods: Features
Amazon might include a feature that Apple just recently introduced to the AirPods for its 2019 update. Gurman reports users will be able to summon Amazon’s voice assistant hands-free by saying, “Alexa.” That’s identical to the “improved Siri-support” that lets AirPods users active the voice assistant by saying, “Hey Siri.” (Or, “Hey Google” or “Hi Bixby.”)
The report also states that the buds will feature gesture controls that will let users tap the buds to answer calls, hang up, and pause or switch songs. These are all common features in many earbuds available today.
Amazon AirPods: Specs
Specific specs about Amazon’s buds have yet to be reveled, but it has been said that Amazon is aiming to provide better audio quality than the AirPods.
One of the biggest reported problems with AirPods is sound leakage, meaning that people around you can hear what you’re listening to. It’s possible that Amazon is designing earbuds that isolate sound allowing for better audio quality than what is currently available on the AirPods.