"Alexa, when are you coming Down Under?"
Amazon might not have officially launched its local website in Australia, but the company has confirmed its Alexa smart assistant will be coming to Australia and New Zealand in early 2018.
Amazon Alexa -- similar to Apple's Siri or Google Assistant -- is the driving force behind its line-up of Amazon Echo smart speakers, which will also be making their way to Australia and New Zealand in the new year.
"The customer response to Alexa and Echo has been incredibly positive, and we're excited to make them available for our Australian and New Zealand customers early next year," said Toni Reid, vice president of Amazon Alexa.
Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo has helped popularised smart home tech, with nearly 19 million units sold, mostly in the US, according to research by Morning Consult [PDF]. The Echo Dot, a smaller-format smart speaker, was the top selling product over last weekend's Black Friday sales, with the company selling "millions" of Alexa-enabled devices over the weekend and on Cyber Monday.
Similar to Google Home, which launched in Australia in July, the Echo acts as a central smart hub within the home. Users can ask it questions via Alexa ("Alexa, what's the weather like today?"), use it to set timers, check calendars, hear sports scores and more. On the music front, the Echo will be timed to launch with Amazon Music Unlimited, which is also set to arrive in early 2018.
But where Alexa really comes into its own (her own?) is as a central control for other smart home tech. When the Echo is hooked up on the same network as your other smart home devices (such as light bulbs, smoke detectors or smart plugs), suddenly you can use your voice to control your whole home.
"Alexa, dim the living room lights."
"Alexa, turn on the coffee machine."
"Alexa, turn off the air conditioner at 9 p.m."
Amazon has confirmed that it will open up its Alexa Skills Kit to local developers so they can add new local skills for Echo users in Australia and New Zealand.
So far, the list of companies providing Alexa skills at launch include:
- Philips Hue
- Sky News Australia
- Fox Sports
- Air New Zealand
- Newstalk ZB
- New Zealand Herald
- SKY TV (New Zealand)
- ZM Radio
Smart Home tech has been slower to get off the ground in Australia and New Zealand, compared to places like the US, largely because the major smart home players have just not been available locally.
Before this year, the only really way for early adopters to play along at home was to buy smart devices online and cludge them to work locally. Setting up an Echo is Australia meant spoofing your location, fussing around with an app not yet available in Australia and generally trying to jury-rig a way around US or UK settings.
Things changed with the launch of Google Home, which helped to bring smart home awareness into the mainstream and normalise the act of yelling at a speaker in your living room to find out tomorrow's weather.
Apple's HomeKit platform has also been available in Australia for some months, but the central hub for that platform, the HomePod, has been, giving Google a head start at winning local fans.
Now, Amazon (with all the brand awareness that it brings) will get a crack at the Aussie and NZ markets. And with the number of smart devices with Alexa functionality only increasing, it couldn't be better timing.
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