Move over, AirPods—Alexa will soon be buzzing in consumers' ears if Amazon has anything to say about it. In a new effort to take digital voice assistant Alexa mobile, Bloomberg reveals Amazon is hard at work developing wireless earbuds similar to Apple's popular AirPods.
Amazon's earbuds will look and feel like the AirPods we're all familiar with, designed to nestle inside a user's ears without wires or clips. But with Alexa built in, the earbuds will allow people to use their voice to order goods and access music, weather, and other information while on the go.
Users will be able to summon the digital assistant by simply saying "Alexa” out loud, followed by the command they want performed. There will also be physical gesture controls, such as tapping the earbuds in order to pick up a phone call, hang up, or switch between songs or podcasts.
These earbuds represent a major shift outside of the home for Amazon's consumer products. It also highlights the growing demand for voice-activated and controlled technology that's not tethered to a physical location. A recent report shows there are more than one billion devices today that provide access to a voice assistant. The highest usage of these assistants is on smartphones, indicating that people want to tap into the power of their voice while they're on the move.
Currently, Siri is the reigning queen of voice assistant usage on smartphones, while Alexa leads when it comes to smart speakers. That could all change should Amazon's earbud offering nail the seamless application of contextual voice control and functionality at a lower price point than AirPods.
Still, Amazon faces an uphill climb. Unlike Apple or Google, Amazon lacks its own smartphone or mobile operating system. These have been huge boons for Siri and Google Assistant to reach their level of popularity and ubiquity, since the respective digital assistants are already embedded in millions of Apple and Google mobile devices. Since the earbuds won't have built-in cell connectivity, they'll have to be paired with Apple and Google devices for Alexa to work.
There are a number of ways Amazon could come out on top with their wireless, voice-first earbuds. For starters, creating a voice-activated device that can cut out superfluous background noise, respond appropriately to contextual information, and accurately identify a user's voice would make the usage of voice assistants in public spheres more effective and manageable. Should Amazon create a great user experience that cuts down on the awkwardness of using voice-first devices in public, it would fundamentally change the way we interact with technology using our voice.
Paying special care and attention to make these voice-enabled earbuds inclusive to all swaths of the population could be another huge differentiator for Amazon. That means taking hearing impaired individuals into account and creating an experience and interface that is just as seamless for them. This also includes making sure Alexa is responsive to everyone who uses the digital assistant, regardless of their unique dialect or accent.
There's great potential for Amazon to make a splash in this market and redefine the voice customer experience. Sales of wearable earbuds reached 12.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, with AirPods holding 60% of this market. Should Amazon's earbuds be a truly voice-first experience—one that's inclusive and intuitive in their utility—we could all be whispering into Alexa's ear very soon, and vice versa.