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e-commerce product technology

Amazon introduces new Alexa devices connecting more in the home

Amazon's smart plug and updated Echo Dot
Amazon’s smart plug and updated Echo Dot

Amazon has launched a new range of Alexa-enabled devices that will help the e-commerce giant take further ownership of connected user experiences in the home.

Announced at an industry event yesterday, (September 20), the devices include a smart plug,  microwave, clock and the Echo Auto, for automobiles. Existing devices such as the Echo Dot and Echo Show have also received upgrades.

“Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive — all just by asking Alexa,” said Tom Taylor, SVP of Amazon Alexa.

The smart plug turns any home appliance into a connected device – enabling users to turn them on or off, for instance, just by asking Alexa to do so. Meanwhile, the microwave allows you to set and start cooking times by voice, as well as control other key features of the machine.

The clock is an analog one in terms of the way it looks, but it can display times and reminders through rings of LED to show you how much time you have left on anything you have set. And the Echo Auto is a new device you plug into the dashboard of your car to enable you to benefit from various Alexa skills while driving, such as listening to traffic updates or setting routines such as turning on your lights at home when you enter your driveway.

The retailer also announced over 24 major new updates to its existing skills portfolio, which currently has 24,000 tasks that its devices can perform. The two most important ones include Alexa Guard and Alexa Hunches, which will both roll out later this year.

Existing Amazon smart devices have also been updated
Existing Amazon smart devices have also been updated

Alexa Guard, as the name suggests, will enable customers to activate Alexa to act as a security system. Integrated into selected Echo devices, it will be activated by the voice command “Alexa, I’m leaving”. Once activated, Alexa will be able to detect sound, such as breaking glass or smoke detectors, and send out a Smart Alert to the homeowner. 

The Alexa Hunches feature will learn from how its user interacts daily to connected devices such as locks and switches, and eventually predict and prompt when behaviors seem out of the ordinary. An example is when a user says goodnight to Alexa, the system’s response may be: “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”

Other skill updates will allow the user to further add a layer of digital to their lifestyles, from cooking to TV streaming.

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Editor's pick Podcast technology

L’Oréal on creating personalized touchpoints through beauty tech

L'Oréal's Guive Balooch and Rachel Arthur
L’Oréal’s Guive Balooch and Rachel Arthur

L’Oréal is on a mission to marry technology and beauty in order to enhance their customer’s lives, says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Tech Incubator on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, hosted at SXSW 2018.

At the core of that purpose is the team Balooch runs, which works as an R&D lab for beauty tech. “When we started about five years ago, our goal was to make sure we could find the link between personalization and technology and find a way to get consumers the right product for them,” he explains.

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Since its inception, the team has developed products such as a connected hairbrush, a UV sensor worn on the nail, the first example of an augmented reality make-up app, and most recently, an on-demand system called Custom D.O.S.E. for SkinCeuticals, which dispenses serum personalized to the customer’s skin needs in under a few minutes.

Technologies such as AI and machine learning have conditioned consumers to become more demanding than ever in finding products and experiences that are relevant to them on a granular level, Balooch explains. But if you look at the beauty market today, off the shelf products simply cannot respond to the plethora of demands that individuals have, he suggests, especially when looking at skintones. This is where a product like Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier comes in, in which consumers have a consultation that includes a skintone scan before generating a tailor made foundation for them.

L'Oréal's My UV Patch
L’Oréal’s My UV Patch

That’s something consumers have been demanding for some time, but the tech and science until recently has just not been possible, Balooch explains. Today we’re at a real inflection point however, meaning customization is only going to get better.

As is the case with all of L’Oréal’s beauty tech launches, the goal is to enable brands under the group’s umbrella to target consumers at a one-to-one level, removing any frustrations that arise during the shopping experience, while allowing beauty associates to focus on the human side of the interaction. For Balooch, this innovation mindset will push new or long-established beauty products to start adapting to change, thus becoming smarter over time. This means evolving the experience they offer the customer by leveraging more individual data, encouraging co-creation, and even coaching consumers themselves to become smarter about how to use their products.

“In 10 years time there’s no question to me that every person will have the ability to have the perfect product for them. I think that there will be much more co-creation – that we’re moving towards an era where the people are becoming the companies,” he notes.

Beyond developing a made-for-me final product, attributes of efficacy and seamlessness are always top of mind when launching new connected technologies, from the production process to the design of the hardware and software itself, Balooch says. When partaking in the D.O.S.E experience with SkinCeuticals, for instance, consumers are able to watch as the machine prepares their personalized serum from beginning to end. This not only helps create an emotional experience for the recipient, but does a good job at communicating the process in a transparent way.

For L’Oréal, that marriage between design and technology is key for customer-facing experiences. “Design is not just a secondary piece of what we do today with technology. [It] can actually fuel the tech itself,” says Balooch, who believes for an integrated experience, technology needs to be both beautiful and warm. The future, he believes, is a balance between such creative and engineering teams.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.