The next frontier for Amazon's Alexa may be the devices you keep on your person most of the time. Amazon announced the new Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit today, which will allow manufacturers to more easily integrate the company's voice assistant into headphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other small devices. The kit is currently in developer preview and partner companies including Bose, Jabra, and iHome are already testing it out.
The developer kit lessens the development load that manufacturers have to take on when making an Alexa-friendly accessory. Instead of using all of the code necessary to build Alexa into a device like a home speaker, manufacturers rely on only some of the code as well as Bluetooth connectivity to the Alexa mobile app. Headphones, wearables, and other Bluetooth-audio capable devices made with the Mobile Accessory Kit can connect to the Alexa mobile app on the device with which they are paired and access the Alexa Voice Service from the app.
That means users can speak to these accessories, asking Alexa to perform various tasks like stream media, control smart home devices, and provide news and weather updates. Amazon also claims users can call upon Alexa "without worrying about Wi-Fi connectivity," but Alexa will require connection to access certain skills and pieces of information. In those cases, the Alexa app would use the device's LTE data.
While the Mobile Accessory Kit makes it easy for manufacturers to integrate Alexa into their products, it also means users of these products will have to download the Alexa app to glean the benefits. Some headphones and most wearables have their own companion mobile apps, and some users may not want to download a second app just to use voice commands. Also, these devices will only be able to use Alexa when connected via Bluetooth to a mobile device, as all of the voice command power comes from Amazon's app.
This doesn't definitively signal forthcoming, Amazon-made headphones or a smartwatch, but it does mean that Amazon is looking beyond the home for new ways to integrate Alexa into daily life. We've seen Alexa branch out slowly over the past year: Amazon made more developer kits that make it easier for manufacturers to integrate Alexa into kitchen appliances and automobiles, among other things. The company gave iOS users access to Alexa earlier this year through the Amazon Shopping app, and it partnered with Garmin to make the Garmin Speak, a tiny Echo Dot-like device for your car that houses Alexa as well as Garmin's own voice command system that can give you driving directions.
With the Mobile Accessory Kit, Amazon also likely wants to keep up with Apple and Google, both of which have wireless earbuds that support their own virtual assistants and voice commands. Those interested in tinkering with Amazon's Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit once it's made widely available can sign up here.