Not content with disrupting the grocery sector, Amazon is also taking on the smart kitchen. At an event in Seattle yesterday, Amazon confirmed the rumour that it is releasing an Alexa-controlled smart kitchen appliance, the AmazonBasics Microwave.
The most surprising aspect of this announcement from Amazon is the low price point. At just $59.99, Amazon is taking on the budget end of the market, and making the smart kitchen more accessible. When you consider that a GE appliances Alexa-enabled smart microwave retails at $139.99, it's clear that smart appliance manufacturers will be following this release closely.
What can the AmazonBasics Microwave do?
More than you'd think given its low price tag. Beyond the obvious functions such as starting and stopping the microwave and choosing a length of time, the AmazonBasics Microwave is preprogrammed to cook or reheat a number of the most common foods, selecting the correct time and heat settings. From reheating rice and defrosting corn to cooking potatoes, Amazon is taking on the sort of precision cooking that has become popular in the smart kitchen, and applying it at a basic level. There is also an 'Ask Alexa' button on the microwave which, when pressed, allows users to bypass Alexa and drop the 'Alexa' part of the voice command.
The AmazonBasics Microwave is also equipped with Amazon Dash replacement, meaning it can automatically re-order particular products when you're running low. When it launches in November this will be limited to popcorn, but Amazon is undoubtedly planning on adding more products in the future.
Why is this a significant move?
When Amazon announced that it was acquiring Whole Foods Market, the grocery sector's response was to double-down on innovation, embrace online grocery and create partnerships with meal kit companies and innovative startups in order to compete with such 'disruption'. While the AmazonBasics Microwave is only available on pre-order right now, the smart kitchen appliance sector will no doubt already be creating a competitive strategy. Price remains the biggest issue for consumers when it comes to smart kitchen appliance adoption, and at $59.99 Amazon's microwave sits is an entry-level smart appliance. Of course, we don't yet know whether the quality matches the price, and it is competing with appliances from premium, reliable brands who are experts in the smart kitchen, but if the reviews are good it could be a major worry for appliance manufacturers.
Why is it not all bad news for other brands?
Alexa is integrated into the AmazonBasics Microwave via the Alexa Connect Kit. This enables developers to easily turn regular devices into WiFi-connected smart devices. Alexa Connect Kit is in limited preview mode right now, but the likes of Midea and Procter & Gamble are already using it to develop smart devices. How does creating their own smart appliance fit in to this? Here's what Amazon has to say about that:
"The AmazonBasics Microwave is the first device built using Alexa Connect Kit and highlights how device makers can quickly and easily build smart devices with features and services customers want."
What else is cooking in the Amazon smart kitchen?
We've long been of the opinion that smart speakers and smart displays in particular are game-changers in the kitchen. When your hands are covered in flour, using your smartphone to check the next step in a recipe is not idea. Voice guidance takes care of that issue. While this is not a new concept, Amazon is formalising the arrangement using Cooking with Alexa, guiding home cooks through their favourite recipes from Kitchen Stories, Allrecipes, Epicurious, Food52, TheKitchn, and SideChef using just their voice and step-by-step images and videos. Recipe guidance via voice is an area that has mass appeal, but to date it hasn't quite reached its potential. By partnering with a number of reputable and popular recipe websites and apps, Amazon is leveraging the current trend of engaging consumers with recipes, and creating a hopefully more seamless experience for Echo users.
Whether Amazon is planning on developing more smart kitchen appliance remains to be seen, but the low price point and novelty factor should be enough to make the AmazonBasics Microwave a more mainstream success than perhaps its more expensive competitors have been. The only certainty here is that Amazon sees potential in the smart kitchen, and whether they double-down on smart appliances or focus on recipe guidance, with Amazon there is always more in the pipeline.