Amazon invented the hands-free, always-on voice assistant when the first Echo was released in June 2015. The company hit on a new type of device, which is being emulated by Google and Microsoft and possibly Apple. Because of the Echo's ease of use, it quickly became very popular for home automation, listening to music, getting the weather and traffic and a slew of informational purposes.
Amazon must love "Developers, Developers, Developers" too, since they have been continually giving away clothing to third party devs who create skills to support the Echo.
It is great to see Amazon go full-in with the success they have experienced from the device. In fact, not only have they embraced the Echo by providing prime time advertising and building out the eco-system, they are creating a family of products which support the artificial intelligence called Alexa inside these devices by creating additional devices that target different uses.
It was March 2016 when the first Echo Dot was announced, which cost less, is smaller, and provided an audio out capability to use your own amplified speaker. The second generation Dot came out in October 2016 which lowered the cost even more by re-engineering the volume control from an analog style (like the full size Echo) to a digital button for up and down.
Along this line, Amazon also made the Echo and Echo Dot available in the standard black color as well as white. Always giving users choices! Additionally, for those who want it, cases began being offered for the Echo Dot. For a relatively inexpensive price, it gives buyers the option of six other colors for the Dot.
In April 2016 the Echo Tap was also announced. This is a portable, battery operated Smart Speaker that is great for on the go. It includes a recharge stand which allows recharging by simply setting the device down (no need to fumble for a cable to plug in). It originally shipped with a button that was requried to be physically pressed in order to give voice commands. This was a good option for those suspecious of an always-on device for security reasons. Later, through a firmware update (and what is available now) you can turn on the popular hands-free mode that all the other Echo devices have.
In April 2017 the Echo Look was announced, which added the idea of a camera to the Echo. The reviews I have seen call this the ultimate selfie-device. In addition to all the other uses of Alexa, Amazon is focusing on clothing and fashion for this device, which is a very interesting choice. Many people will have no interest in such a device, as it is also more expensive then the Echo. Yet, another large group of people will find this just the device they want to not only learn about new fashion suggestions but to be told which of two outfits is the most pleasing on them. This device is currently available by invitation only.
In May 2017 the Echo Show was announced which adds a display. As of this writing, the device is not yet shipping, so it is hard to comment on it's capabilities other than the video from Amazon. The big deal with this announcement, is that it also made Chat available, both video chat through this device along with audio chat on all the other Echo devices. This is something that people have been asking for in the forums constantly, so it is exciting that this was released. Another side benefit was the announcement that not just the Echo Show but all the Echo devices would soon support a Notification system (another feature folks have been longing for).
There is also the Alexa Companion App which is a mobile and web App that lets users setup and manage their device. It can also be used for voice calling when you are on-the-go. It can also be used as a remote control for those times you might not be within speaking distance of an Echo device. Additionally, Alexa is now available to any third party company through the use of the Alexa Voice Server (AVS). So not only are we seeing hardware manufactured by other companies, we are even seeing Alexa put into automobiles.
All this new hardware is coming out and at the same time Amazon is constantly upgrading the software capabilities. We have seen new calendars, integration with Todo lists, additional music options as well as the Chat and Notification features previously mentioned, and Flash Skills (just to name a couple).
What is exciting about all these announcements is that Amazon is rapidly adding devices to the Echo family. This is good for third party developers as there will be more customers available as a whole who are part of the eco-system.