Amazon is planning to release a pair of wireless earbuds with its popular Alexa virtual assistant built in during the second half of this year, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
The headphones would directly compete with AirPods, the cord-free earbuds Apple introduced in 2016 and recently refreshed in March. Users would be able to summon Alexa by saying the trigger word, just as they would when using an Echo or any other Alexa-supported device.
Amazon’s earbuds would also support gestures such as tapping to switch music tracks or end phone calls, says the report, and would come in a case that’s capable of charging the earbuds just like AirPods. They will not have built-in cellular activity, which means users will have to connect them to a smartphone. The project is being referred to as one of the “most important” initiatives in Amazon’s Lab126 division, according to Bloomberg.
Amazon’s Alexa has established itself as the leading smart home platform, claiming 61.1% of the smart speaker market in the United States, according to a report by Voicebot.ai and Voicify. But Amazon has largely missed out on the mobile market following its failed Fire Phone, which it scrapped in 2015 after disappointing sales. A device like Alexa-enabled earbuds could change that by giving existing Alexa users a more convenient way to access the virtual assistant outside of the home. Amazon makes Alexa available to iPhones and Android devices via a smartphone app, but the virtual assistant isn’t integrated into the operating system like Apple’s and Google’s own digital helpers.
Amazon would be entering a crowded market in which rivals like Apple have already established a firm lead. In the fourth quarter of 2018, Apple accounted for 60% of the global market for truly wireless headphones, according to Counterpoint Research. There are also more options available than ever before. For example, wireless earbuds made by companies like Jabra can access Alexa, Siri, or the Google Assistant. Apple also recently launched a new version of the AirPods that support hands-free Siri access and comes with an optional wireless charging case, while its Beats brand also just launched a fresh pair of wireless Powerbeats Pro earbuds. Before that, Samsung released its own AirPods rival, the Galaxy Buds.