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Amazon sees Alexa devices more than double in just one year

At CES, the e-retailer boasts of hundreds of millions of voice-enabled devices.

At Amazon's 2019 CES booth.

Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

It took Amazon four years to populate the world with 100 million Alexa-powered devices. It took the company just one more year to more than double that number.

The e-commerce titan announced Monday that there are now "hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices" in customers' hands worldwide, a massive increase from the 100 million it announced last January. Both figures include Amazon's own lines of Echo speakers, Fire tablets and Fire TV streamers, as well as third-party devices like wearables, TVs and computers, showing how much Alexa's world has broadened.

Smart-home engagement with Alexa nearly doubled, too, with people using the voice assistant for smart home controls hundreds of millions of times every week.

The company revealed these new milestones at the start of CES 2020, the biggest tech show in the world, where it will present a slew of new partnerships in cars, TVs and connected homes to keep up Alexa's breakneck growth.

Amazon hardware chief David Limp

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

"It's been a very, very big year in terms of momentum for Alexa-enabled devices out there," David Limp, who leads Amazon's hardware development, told CNET late last month. "If somebody had said five years ago that we'd be able to say those kinds of things about the business, I would have been amazed."

In its typically secretive fashion, Amazon avoided offering more specific growth figures. Still, the numbers show how huge Alexa has become over half a decade, with the digital helper becoming by far the most popular smart-home controller in the US. Following such significant growth so quickly, Amazon will now have to figure out how to stay ahead of its many competitors -- Google, Apple, Samsung and others -- and continue posting such big growth numbers for its voice assistant.

Google, for instance, has ramped up its presence at CES over the last few years, primarily to hammer home the benefits of its own Google Assistant.

With Alexa already integrated into more than 100,000 smart home products from over 9,500 brands -- another big milestone the company unveiled last month -- you'd reasonably wonder what else is left, aside from a smart cheese grater, for Alexa to talk to.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, said Amazon is likely just getting started.

"I believe Amazon has made good progress getting itself into 100,000 different products," he wrote in an email, "but the opportunity is likely 10x that over ten years."

Consumer privacy and Ring controversies

One issue that may stifle Alexa's popularity is privacy. Amazon and other major voice developers faced mounting criticism last year for failing to let their users know they use human reviewers to listen to a small number of user recordings. The practice is widespread and needed to improve voice services. But, in some cases, contractors working for these companies heard recordings that included people having sex, or audio with private banking or medical information.

Amazon, Google and Apple tightened their privacy settings following the uproar. Limp said last month that he plans to stay focused on consumers' privacy needs.

"Every time that privacy comes up, I think it's our responsibility to continue to move the ball forward," he said. "We're never going to stop. As long as we think it's important and we hear from customers, we're going to continue inventing new ways to make these products, obviously more delightful, but also just more secure across the board."

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He noted that sales of Amazon's Alexa-enabled devices haven't slowed down amid the human reviewer controversy but added that he had no intention of letting the problem fester enough to let that happen. 

Ring, Amazon's video doorbell company, has also faced criticism for security lapses and its partnerships with local police departments. Asked if he had second thoughts about purchasing Ring, Limp quickly responded: "No, no, in fact the opposite is true."

He said Ring has been a hugely successful acquisition for Amazon and he is excited about Ring's future products. Limp added that he and Ring's team take customer trust very seriously, so they'll continue to develop new ways to make Ring products "even safer."

Pointing to continued strong sales of Alexa devices, Moorhead argued that Amazon has done enough so far to address most customers' privacy and security needs. But, he added, that "privacy and security is a constant moving target so what worked in 2019 may not work perfectly in the future." So he expects the company to keep adding new features to manage that changing dynamic.

Coming up at CES 2020

Owing to Amazon's bigger presence at CES, the company will have three different exhibits at the show, including an Alexa devices exhibit at the Venetian, a cars-focused exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center and a Ring booth at the Sands Expo Convention Center.

Amazon also said Monday that several TV makers and smart-home developers will announce new devices that support Alexa at CES.

Beyond this week's show, Limp said even more Alexa products will be coming from Amazon, too, from its new "Day 1 Edition" lineup that includes more experimental and small-batch devices, like Echo Frames glasses and the Echo Loop ring. 

"We will do more," Limp said of Day 1 Edition product. "Whether that is small numbers or large numbers, i think that that is up to customers more than us.

A small sampling of the many Alexa-powered devices Amazon showed off at CES last year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"We do have lots of fun ideas that sit on the lab bench," he continued, "and that we get pretty far along on internal betas, but we've had limitations on how we could ship them in the past. This is one way that we're trying to have some of those products see the light of day."

Asked if an Alexa-powered robot -- a concept that's been rumored since last year -- may soon arrive, Limp declined to say much.

"I do believe that robotics are interesting," Limp said. "We utilize robotics in large aspects of what we do as a company and I think that over time robotics will be important for consumers as well."

That means there likely won't be an Amazon-made consumer robot coming out at CES 2020, but as Amazon crams Alexa into even more stuff, perhaps there's a chance it will arrive along with that cheese grater at CES 2021.

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