Amazon could charge a monthly subscription for its next-generation version of Alexa, according to a new report. The chatty AI assistant is currently available at no charge for anyone who owns an Amazon Echo smart speaker, smart display, Fire TV set-top box, or downloads the Alexa app.
Dubbed Alexa Plus, the supercharged AI assistant is being tested by some 15,000 Amazon users, a report by Business Insider claims. The upgraded system will be much closer to the large language model-powered tools like ChatGTP from OpenAI and Google’s Bard.
Amazon already offered a sneak peek of how large language models will enhance Alexa during its annual hardware event, held at its corporate headquarters in Arlington, Virginia in September last year. In a live demo on-stage, Amazon devices boss Dave Limp revealed how the latest iteration of the assistant would be more expressive in its responses – for example sounding happier when returning a positive score result for your favourite sports team.
Not only that, but by saying “Let’s Chat” to Alexa, users can speak with the virtual helper without the use of the wake phrase “Alexa” every time, making the exchange feel more conversational and natural. You’ll even be able to pick up a conversation after a short break and Alexa will still remember all of the context from the previous exchanges.
Dave Limp promised that Alexa can understand inferences and more vague prompts in a way that he described will be “like talking to a friend”. For example, the new Alexa can respond to the prompt “I’m cold” by turning on the heating in a connected home.
At the time, the Amazon boss didn’t confirm when we’d see the new-and-improved Alexa.
In a blog post shared after the curtain had fallen on the event, Daniel Rausch, Vice President of Alexa and Fire TV, wrote: “We’ll continue to develop and add more capabilities as part of a free preview, which will be available to Alexa customers in the US soon. We know customers will have lots of feedback, and we can’t wait to hear it.”
Sources speaking to Business Insider suggest the new-and-improved Alexa Plus is targeting a June 30 release date.
It’s unclear how much Amazon wants to charge users to use Alexa Plus, but with a reported $4 billion investment in AI research company Anthropic to train Alexa on large language models, the Seattle-based retailer has a long way to go before it breaks even.
“If this fails to get revenue, Alexa is in trouble,” a source with knowledge of the situation exclusively told Business Insider.
As it stands, customers who own an Amazon Echo device can use the chatty AI voice assistant to check the latest forecast and headlines, play the radio, set reminders and timers, and more — without spending a penny. You’ll only need to set up a Direct Debit with Amazon if you want to use optional services, like Amazon Music Primeor Audible, which are compatible with a range of devices, including Amazon Echo.