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Amazon's Alexa dives into mobile world with Echo earbuds, glasses and ring

These on-the-go products -- called Echo Buds, Frames and Loop -- should let you take Alexa with you all day.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
5 min read

Amazon hardware chief David Limp showing off the new Echo Buds on Wednesday.

James Martin/CNET

Standing in a demo room that overlooked the Space Needle at Amazon's Seattle headquarters, Alexa hardware executive Miriam Daniel smiled as she encouraged me to stick a pair of Echo Buds in my ears. The space was noisy and chaotic, punctuated repeatedly by Alexa chiming in with different responses. I tapped the side of the earbuds twice, then suddenly there was near silence, with Alexa calmly telling me, "Noise reduction on."

These earbuds were among a handful of new devices Amazon introduced just a few hours earlier on Wednesday during the company's annual product launch event. While there were the typical updates to the Echo speaker line, this year brought with it a new crop of on-the-go Alexa gear. These devices will allow Amazon's voice assistant to stop being such a homebody and travel well past your front doors.

"Customers don't want to be bound by the technology that we put in any particular box," Amazon smart home Vice President Daniel Rausch told me earlier. "They want things like Alexa with them all the time. That is literally the feedback."

Watch this: Amazon Echo Frames put Alexa on your face

And so, that is exactly what Amazon did, revealing the $130 Echo Buds wireless earbuds, the $180 Echo Frames smart glasses and the $130 Echo Loop ring. Added to that, Amazon added General Motors as a new automotive partner -- joining car makers including Ford and Toyota  -- allowing it to integrate Alexa into GMC, Cadillac and Chevrolet vehicles starting next year.

The Buds will start shipping in time for the holidays, while Loop and Frames will be available by invite only as Amazon tests them under an experimental hardware program called Day 1 Edition, which was also introduced Wednesday. (Here's the Echo Frames and Echo Buds fine print.)

The new devices represent the next big step in Alexa's development, going from a voice assistant that manages your smart home to a voice assistant that manages your life. It will enable Amazon to bring Alexa into more places than ever before and allow customers to keep Alexa with them, if they wish, at all times in their ears, on their faces or around their fingers. 

Such devices may ultimately help Amazon make Alexa an even more critical part of people's daily lives and help it hold its customer base ever closer -- and away from rivals like  Apple's  Siri and Google Assistant. Amazon already dominates the smart speaker market in the US, with 70% of the device in homes being Echo devices, followed by 25% from Google and 5% from Apple, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

The announcements build on work Amazon has been doing for the past few years to break Alexa out of the home. Like  Siri , Samsung's Bixby and Google Assistant, Alexa is already available through the Alexa app on people's phones . Amazon also started bringing Alexa into more businesses and hotels to give people an opportunity to talk to the voice assistant while away from home. It brought Alexa into cars using the Echo Auto device, as well as partnerships with automakers. Amazon had previously sold the Amazon Tap , an Alexa-enabled mobile Bluetooth speaker, but it was discontinued.

Now the next big leap for the voice assistant is Alexa on your body. We'll have to wait to see whether people will be excited by this idea or freaked out. Alexa and other voice assistants this year have been dogged by privacy concerns, so it's possible customers will avoid these Alexa-everywhere devices.

"I take those three announcements as making the experience more personal but also more pervasive," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy who attended the press event.

There are several other products on sale right now that offer similar capabilities, such as Apple's AirPods, which connect to Siri, and the Vuzix Blade Alexa-powered smart glasses.

Where to next?

Miriam Daniel led me around to another part of the demo room, where product manager Daniel Borrelli enthusiastically presented me with the Echo Loop, a black, titanium-encased ring that's fitted with a tiny speaker and two microphones.

"This is the smallest Echo device we've ever launched," he said, beaming.

I put it on my index finger, pressed a tiny button on the bottom of the device and got a vibration in response. I spoke into the ring, asking it for the hours of a local Whole Foods, and then cupped it to my ear to hear the answer.

Watch this: Amazon Echo Buds take on AirPods with built-in Alexa

I then tried on the glasses, which have chunky black frames and thick sides to hide the electronic components. I asked Alexa to play some music. To allay people's concerns about smart glasses like Google Glass , the Echo Frames don't include a camera or display.

Daniel told me that, like with Echo Auto, the Buds, Frames and Loop will all have real-time location-tracking capabilities utilizing a phone's GPS. With this feature, people can ask Alexa to remind them to pick up the dry cleaning when they're out of the house or to find a nearby coffee shop. These devices can even tell people the specific aisles to go to for different items at a local Whole Foods.

13 cool new Echo products to add to your Amazon wish list

See all photos

That location feature must be turned on by customers to work, and the data collected isn't used for any marketing, advertising or personalization on Amazon's website, and it isn't sold to other companies, Daniel said.

In addition to the mobile products, Amazon unveiled a new higher-end speaker called Echo Studio, a new Echo Show 8 smart display and the Amazon Smart Oven. The company also bolstered its privacy settings, including allowing people to auto-delete Alexa recordings on a rolling three- or 18-month basis.

The company even ventured into creating a new low-bandwidth network called Amazon Sidewalk to extend the range at which people can use their smart-home devices. This network could potentially be used to connect mobile Alexa gadgets too.

While the on-the-go products should help Alexa stretch outside the home, Rausch saw them also as a way of augmenting the smart home experience. For instance, you could wear the Buds around your house and use them to turn on connected lights and close the garage door.

"It's a bit like having The Force," he said.

First published Sept. 25 at 6:01 p.m. PT.
Update Sept. 26 at 5:00 a.m. PT: Adds more details on announcements at the press event.