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Amazon's Got A Few New Tricks To Make Your Home 'Smarter'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/03/2016 Casey Williams
AMAZON ECHO DOT © Amazon AMAZON ECHO DOT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon Inc on Thursday introduced two new gadgets similar to its voice-controlled Echo speaker, which can be used to check the weather, order Domino's pizza or hail an Uber car.

Amazon Tap, a portable speaker that streams music, sells for $129.99. The $89.99 Echo Dot is a hockey puck-shaped device that responds to prompts to control smart appliances and connects to external speakers.

For now, Echo Dot is only available to Amazon Prime members who already have the original Echo device and Amazon's Fire TV set-top box. The original Echo, launched in 2014, is larger and cannot connect to external speakers.

"Lots of customers who have used Echo told us that portability was a must," said David Limp, senior vice president of devices at Amazon, explaining the company's decision to develop Tap, a soda can-shaped speaker that can connect remotely to music streaming services.

The gadgets are part of the company's efforts to position itself as a leader in smart homes, which allow consumers to control various connected appliances like refrigerators and lights from a central hub such as Echo or a mobile phone. 

Last year Amazon opened up Alexa, the digital assistant that powers Echo, to third-party developers and added hundreds of new features like access to music streaming service Spotify and integration with smart lights made by Phillips.

Amazon also announced on Thursday a special interface to allow thermostat makers like Nest and Honeywell to connect their appliances with Echo.

Amazon does not release sales figures for the Echo, so it is unclear how well the device is selling.

Other tech companies including Alphabet Inc's Google and International Business Machines Corp are also racing to introduce products to control smart homes.

Amazon is also not alone in investing in digital assistants, which can provide valuable data to technology companies about their consumers' interests, preferences and spending habits.

Apple Inc has steadily broadened Siri's reach since the first edition was released in 2011, while Google, Microsoft Corp and Facebook Inc are also continuing to develop their own digital assistants.

Limp said Amazon has been trying to improve Alexa's ability to identify natural speech patterns and accurately act on user prompts.

 (Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Richard Chang)

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