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Amazon adds multi-room audio for Echo, cuts music prices

Amazon has unveiled a major software update for its Echo speaker allowing the gadget to work as a multi-room hifi system. 

It also revealed a new developer kit that will allow an Echo to control speakers made by other firms, such as Bose, Samsung and Sonos for the first time.

The update will allow users to simply ask for the music they want to hear in each room – or to listen to music throughout the house. 

Rumors from earlier this month that Amazon is launching multi-room audio have come to fruit. Starting today users with multiple Echo products can play music simultaneously in multiple rooms 

HOW IT WORKS 

Starting today users with multiple Echo products can play music simultaneously in multiple rooms. 

Users can target a specific device, groups of devices or all of their Echos.

Grouping means that instead of sending audio to every device at once, you could send it to just some, like the living room and backyard, for example. 

Currently, the capability works with Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Pandora.

Support for Spotify and SiriusXM is on the way as well.

Customers in the US, UK and Germany can begin using the new multi-room audio capabilities today.

With the much-anticipated update, users can target a specific device, groups of devices or all of their Echos to allow them to keep listening as they walk around their homes.

Grouping means that instead of sending audio to every device at once, you could send it to just some, like the living room and backyard, for example. 

‘In just the last few months, we’ve added dozens of new features to Alexa that enhance your entertainment experience,’ Toni Reid, vice presient of Amazon Alexa, said, listing new features.

He mentioned the ability to control of Amazon Fire TV and home entertainment systems via Echo; the new music lyrics, Amazon Video, and movie trailers on Echo Show feature; and activity-based music searches.

‘Today, we’re making Alexa even smarter with an all-new feature that lets you play music synchronized on multiple Echo devices to provide room-filling music throughout your home.’ 

Users can now synchronize music playback across Echo devices to play songs from Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Pandora.

Support for Spotify and SiriusXM is on the way as well.

Customers in the US, UK, and Germany can begin using the new multi-room audio capabilities on Echo devices today.

Until now, having more than one Echo device offered nothing more to the experience. Other than the fact that they would all be linked to the same account, there was no way to use them in tandem. Users, however, have long been interested in multi-room listening

Until now, having more than one Echo device offered nothing more to the experience. Other than the fact that they would all be linked to the same account, there was no way to use them in tandem. Users, however, have long been interested in multi-room listening

Additionally, Amazon also announced two new sets of tools for developers to bring multi-room music control to their Alexa Voice Service (AVS) speakers.

‘Doing so will allow customers to play their music across supported Echo and AVS devices – for example, a customer with three Echo devices and two standalone AVS speakers can play synchronized music across all five devices,’ the firm said.

Amazon is working with companies including Sonos, Bose, Sound United, and Samsung on this – the tools will be available in early 2018.

‘We’re thrilled to integrate Alexa multi-room audio with Samsung speakers,’ said Jun Young Kim, Vice President of AV Business Team, Samsung.

‘With Alexa multi-room audio and Samsung, customers will simply be able to ask Alexa to play their favorite music in any room of the house – using only their voice. Listening to great music on Samsung speakers has never been easier.’

Amazon also announced a student discount for Amazon Music Unlimited. Memberships usually cost $7.99 and $9.99 per month for Prime and non-Prime users respectively, but today Amazon dropped that price to just $4.99 for students or $6 total for six months

Amazon also announced a student discount for Amazon Music Unlimited. Memberships usually cost $7.99 and $9.99 per month for Prime and non-Prime users respectively, but today Amazon dropped that price to just $4.99 for students or $6 total for six months

AMAZON MUSIC UNLIMITED (FOR STUDENTS)

While improving the music-listening experience on Echo devices today, the company has also announced in a drastic price drop for Amazon Music Unlimited (for students).

Memberships usually cost $7.99 and $9.99 per month for Prime and non-Prime users respectively, but today Amazon dropped that price to just $4.99 for students.

The company is offering eligible students the option to enroll for six months for $6.

Amazon Music Unlimited gives users access to the full library of tens of millions of songs, whereas the library accessible with just Prime has only two million.

Unlimited also features more newer music, no ads, offline listening and unlimited skips. 

Sonos Vice President of Software, Antoine Leblond, echoed this statement, saying working with Amazon on this was ‘an obvious choice’ because ‘Alexa set the standard for voice in smart homes.’

‘This has been a close collaboration from the beginning as we’ve worked together to combine the magic of Alexa with the seamless multi-room audio capabilities that Sonos pioneered.’

‘We’re proud of the work we’ve done together as Amazon’s first multi-room partner – all you’ll need is an Alexa-enabled device and playing music out loud on Sonos will be as easy as saying ‘Alexa, play music in the living room.’

Sound United is ‘excited’ about how the collaboration will enhance its user experience, according, CEO and president Kevin Duffy, said.

‘Sound United is constantly striving to provide consumers with the best possible user experience – with AI voice services simplifying how we control our home environments and products, we’re excited Denon, Marantz, and HEOS customers will be some of the first to experience Alexa multi-room audio compatibility and the power of voice control,’ he said.

‘Soon, users will be able to play their favorite song, alter the volume, or change an input in any room where our connected products are placed, simply by asking Alexa to do so.’

While improving the music-listening experience on Echo devices today, the company has also announced a generous student discount for Amazon Music Unlimited.

Memberships usually run $7.99 and $9.99 per month for Prime and non-Prime users respectively, but today Amazon dropped that price to just $4.99 for students.

For a limited time, the company is offering eligible students the option to enroll for six months for only $6 total.

Amazon Music Unlimited gives users access to the full library of tens of millions of songs, whereas the library accessible with just Prime has only two million. Unlimited also features more newer music, no ads, offline listening and unlimited skips

Amazon Music Unlimited gives users access to the full library of tens of millions of songs, whereas the library accessible with just Prime has only two million. Unlimited also features more newer music, no ads, offline listening and unlimited skips

ECHO IN NUMBERS

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices are expected to claim a 70.6 percent share of the U.S. market this year.

That puts it far ahead of Alphabet Inc’s Google Home, a similar gadget that has a 23.8 percent share, and less successful offerings from other tech companies.

The number of active U.S. users will more than double for the devices this year, to 35.6 million.

Device sales and extra revenue from shoppers placing orders via Alexa could generate $10 billion for Amazon by 2020, RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney said in a recent note. 

Amazon Music Unlimited gives users access to the full library of tens of millions of songs, whereas the library accessible with just Prime has only two million.

Unlimited also features newer music, no ads, offline listening, and unlimited skips. 

The unlimited plan for students will also feature Alexa voice controls.

A sample of use cases the company shared with TechCrunch includes commands such as, ‘Alexa, play classical music for studying,’ and ‘Alexa, play pop music for focusing.’

The new multi-room audio feature was reported as a rumor earlier this month by German tech site Cashys Blog.  

The original report gave no indication of when the feature would roll out, but the release a few weeks later is not a huge surprise.

‘The corresponding tests have been successful so that Amazon could theoretically distribute the update at any time,’ Cashys Blog said at the time, translated.

Dailymail.com has reached out to an Amazon spokesperson to find out more information and confirm the report at the time and was told ‘We have nothing to share.’

Prior to the update, having more than one Echo device offered nothing more to the experience.

Other than the fact that they would all be linked to the same account, there was no way to use them in tandem.

Users, however, have long been asking for multi-room listening.

It’s been a hot topic in discussion forums, and a company called JLab even developed a workaround in the form of custom speakers specifically made to broadcast Echo audio in multiple rooms. 

It’s been long-suspected that Amazon would implement this feature – the company has pushed Echo Dots in discounted bundles of six and often offered major deals for the smaller device.

Upon opening Monday morning, Whole Foods shoppers saw 'farm fresh' Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices for sale as well as Amazon price tags and the word 'Echo' spelled out in a produce display in some locations

Upon opening Monday morning, Whole Foods shoppers saw ‘farm fresh’ Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices for sale as well as Amazon price tags and the word ‘Echo’ spelled out in a produce display in some locations

'I'm expecting that aside from special deals for prime members, I hope I'll see more recommendations for things I'm buying and linking my online and retail experiences,' Milanesi said

‘I’m expecting that aside from special deals for prime members, I hope I’ll see more recommendations for things I’m buying and linking my online and retail experiences,’ Milanesi said

Some users even reported seeing the option to ‘synchronize audio’ show up in their settings within the last few months, leading many to believe Amazon was quietly testing the feature with a small group of users.

Turning the Echo – especially the Dot – into a larger listening experience would make sense with the company’s other recent moves. 

It’s been said that the speakers on new devices are getting an overhaul with ‘high-grade speakers’ boosting its sound quality.

Yesterday, Amazon began pushing Echo devices even more following its $13.7 billion buyout of Whole Foods.

Upon opening Monday morning, Whole Foods shoppers saw ‘farm fresh’ Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices for sale as well as Amazon price tags and the word ‘Echo’ spelled out in a produce display in some locations.

While these are the only devices being sold so far, it’s expected that Amazon will push Alexa for shopping purposes and even link users’ online and retail experiences to offer purchase suggestions and more.

‘I was suspecting that they were going to use the stores as a showcase for not just their Amazon Fresh and Pantry but for the actual devices,’ Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, told DailyMail.com. 

‘I think Echo and any device that may come in the future that is home related will fit in the context, as well as anything that uses Alexa, so you can link Alexa to your shopping.’

 Echos were spotted for $99.99 and Echo Dots for $45.99 - while these are the same prices listed as on Amazon.com, they are down from recent prices, and it appears Amazon Echos are currently out of stock online 

 Echos were spotted for $99.99 and Echo Dots for $45.99 – while these are the same prices listed as on Amazon.com, they are down from recent prices, and it appears Amazon Echos are currently out of stock online 

Customers first began noticing Echo and Echo Dot devices being in grocery chain on Monday morning, the same day the deal was finalized.

Echos were spotted for $99.99 and Echo Dots for $45.99 – while these are the same prices listed as on Amazon.com, they are down from recent prices, and it appears Amazon Echos are currently out of stock online.

Amazon has said more changes are coming but won’t give details.

A spokesperson told DailyMail.com, ‘Echos are available in select Whole Foods stores. 

‘Nothing else to share beyond that.’ 

However, Milanesi believes the big opportunity for Amazon here is not simply having 470 brick-in-mortar locations to push products, but having a way to connect consumers’ online and retail purchases and shopping habits.

‘I think one of the steps they highlighted last week when the deal was finalized was the fact that Prime will become the reward system for shopping at whole foods,’ Milanesi said.

‘I’m expecting that aside from special deals for prime members, I hope I’ll see more recommendations for things I’m buying and linking my online and retail experiences.’ 

This past May, Amazon launched its newest device, a touchscreen with a 7-inch touchscreen display with the ability to make voice and video calls to the Alexa assistant. Around the same time, it introduced Echo Look, a 'style assistant' smart camera priced at $200

This past May, Amazon launched its newest device, a touchscreen with a 7-inch touchscreen display with the ability to make voice and video calls to the Alexa assistant. Around the same time, it introduced Echo Look, a ‘style assistant’ smart camera priced at $200

Amazon Echo first launched for Prime customers in November 2014, with the product becoming available to all U.S. consumers the following May.

In March 2016, the company released the Echo Dot, a smaller alternative with the same functions, as well as the Echo Tap, a portable battery-powered version of the product.

This past May, Amazon launched its newest device, Amazon Show – a touchscreen with a 7-inch display with the ability to make voice and video calls to the Alexa assistant. 

Around the same time, it introduced Echo Look, a ‘style assistant’ smart camera priced at $200.  

The new devices may help Amazon expand and improve the Echo’s capabilities in more areas, including video chats and online shopping, making the gadget more of a must-have item for homes.

Amazon sold an estimated 8 million Echo devices in the U.S. since the product first launched, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners said in January.   

ECHO LOOK ‘STYLE ASSISTANT’

Amazon’s Echo Look smart camera is priced at $200.

It is not yet available to buy in the UK, and those who want to buy it in the US can do so on an invite-only basis. 

Powered by Alexa, the device takes full-length photos and videos from all angles to help users pick the right outfit.

Amazon has released the Echo Look, which is an Alexa-powered camera that takes full-length photos and short videos of you and your home. Experts have warned that many Echo Look customers do not fully understand the data that they are handing to Amazon

Amazon has released the Echo Look, which is an Alexa-powered camera that takes full-length photos and short videos of you and your home. Experts have warned that many Echo Look customers do not fully understand the data that they are handing to Amazon

The app lets users create a personal lookbook, browse your outfits, and use computer vision-based background blur to make your outfits pop.

The new feature, called Style Check, uses advanced machine learning algorithms and advice from fashion specialists to let users know whether their choice in clothing was a do or a don’t. 

Amazon’s newly-announced Echo Look uses the company’s Alexa AI to take photos and videos of you and make judgements on outfits.

But experts have expressed concern over the privacy issues surrounding a camera that regularly takes and stores pictures of users and their homes.

They say that Amazon must update its privacy policy and better-inform consumers of the technology’s risks.

 

The Echo speaker uses Amazon’s personal voice assistant called Alexa, which is similar to Apple’s Siri.

Alexa is the ‘wake word’ for the internet-connected speaker.

Alexa can respond to voice commands with actions such as setting an alarm, or simply by providing a spoken answer to a question. 

Shoppers can also ask Alexa to put products on their Amazon shopping list.  

The smart speaker learns as it goes along, getting to know the user’s speech patterns, vocabulary and preferences.

Echo has seven hidden microphones to ensure that it can pick up voice commands from anywhere in the room. 

With built-in Bluetooth, the Wi-Fi-connected Echo also functions as a 360-degree wireless speaker. 

The speaker enables hands-free voice control from the likes of Amazon Music, Spotify and other streaming services. 

Echo also works with a number of other firms such as Uber, enabling users to order a cab with a spoken command.

Other firms included for the UK launch are Just Eat, National Rail and Sky Sports. 

Overall, thousands of companies and developers have produced ‘Alexa Skills,’ or functions you can use with the Echo products. 

Alexa can also be used to controlled smart home appliances including Hive, Nest and Hue.

To ensure the privacy of Echo users, pressing the mute button will cut all power to the microphones.

Users can delete voice searches from the Alexa app if they choose.    

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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