Amazon is ready to challenge Apple with a cheaper, Alexa-powered set of wireless earbuds. If successful, it would carve out a space for the popular digital assistant, and its deep connections to the rest of Amazon’s ecosystem, in the mobile world Amazon has hitherto largely failed to penetrate. But that’s a big if.
A report from Bloomberg details the upcoming hardware, which sounds a lot like AirPods (and the handful of other wireless sets that have appeared): a pair of small wireless in-ear buds, a case that doubles as a charger and built-in controls and a mic so you can control your music, talk to friends and ask Alexa things on the go.
Of course, the obvious question is how exactly this will work, given that AirPods have special privileges as first-party Apple hardware that let them perform tasks others can’t yet do. If your phone is locked, non-AirPod headphones (for instance Galaxy Buds) can’t connect through their associated app to look stuff up or provide services. You can of course set up a “Hey Siri, OK Google” situation, but that’s a bit sad.
Bloomberg’s report says that the Alexa headphones let you “order goods, access music, weather and other information,” but it isn’t clear under what circumstances. If you have to have the phone unlocked and an app open for it to work, the whole thing is a non-starter. And it seems unlikely that Apple would grant Amazon some kind of clearance to do the kind of things only AirPods can do.
It’s conceivable that the headphones will, when possible, connect instead on detection of a command to a compatible Alexa device nearby with an internet connection — and there’s no shortage of those in many a tech-savvy home. But if you’re walking down the street and need to ask directions, you may have to pull the phone out, which rather negates the already somewhat limited convenience of owning a pair of wireless headphones.
These difficulties, plus those associated with simply making such a sophisticated piece of hardware for relatively cheap, explain why the headphones have reportedly had a bit of trouble getting shipped.
A cheaper price tag and potentially better audio quality may not be enough to make this particular endeavor a winner, but we’ll know more if and when Amazon goes official.