It had been rumored that Amazon was going to announce a set of earbuds at its big media event today yesterday. But I don’t think anyone guessed that those earbuds would tell you where to find tomatoes at your local Whole Foods.
The Amazon Echo Buds let you wirelessly listen to music and take calls, and also feature noise reduction and hand-free access to Alexa (they also work with Siri and Google Assistant). The Echo Buds are available for pre-order today for $129 and will be available at the end of next month.
Normally we wouldn’t write about earbuds, but during the demo on-stage yesterday, Amazon showed the Echo Buds doing two food techy things: First they were used to find out if a local Whole Foods had canned tomatoes in stock, and then they showed us how Alexa can tell you where those tomatoes are inside the store (e.g. “aisle 6”).
Aside from being neat — and useful — it also points to how Amazon is folding Whole Foods more directly into its other products, and how Alexa is getting more contextual. The device is no longer just handing out information but providing real-world guidance on a granular level. You can imagine Alexa not just guiding you to one item, but if you tell it that you are making lasagne, the Echo Buds could guide you through a store, giving you the fastest route to pick up all the necessary ingredients.
Of course, this guidance only applies to Whole Foods at the moment, so you’re out of luck if you shop at Kroger or Albertsons. And even then, the in-store location within Whole Foods is limited because for now, you have to select a Whole Foods location that Alexa then taps into. So you can’t wander into any Whole Foods to get guidance, you have to be in the one you picked.
Still, we know that Amazon has been experimenting with Amazon Go store-like cashierless checkout technology at bigger stores. That system involves lots of cameras and computer vision, so it’s aware of inventory levels and product placement in-stores. If Amazon rolls that system out to all of its Whole Foods, Alexa will be able to “see” into those stores to provide more precise location information (“halfway down aisle 6, top shelf”).
That’s still a ways away but listen up, with the Echo Buds, Alexa is coming with you, wherever you are.