Tech: Amazon made 5 game-changing announcements at its biggest event of the year (AMZN)

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Dave Limp, senior VP of Amazon Devices

Amazon made dozens of announcements at its September event held in Seattle, but a handful of game-changing announcements deserve to be highlighted.

Amazon, one of the biggest companies in the world, made a huge splash at its September 20 event in Seattle, where it showcased tons of new hardware and services designed to make your life easier.

Amazon unveiled significant updates to Echo devices that already exist, like the Echo Dot and Echo Plus, but it also introduced entirely new products we've never seen before, like a subwoofer for the Amazon Echo called Echo Sub, and even smart kitchen appliances like a smart microwave.

While Amazon made dozens of announcements, these were the 5 biggest highlights from the show:

1. Amazon’s voice assistant is now your personal security guard

A new feature called Alexa Guard integrates your Echo devices and smart lights with security service providers to protect your home.

Alexa Guard can send you alerts with audio clips when specific sounds are detected, for instance, and you can choose to forward those alerts to your security provider like ADT or Ring.

Alexa Guard also uses machine learning to turn your smart lights on and off in a pattern that seems normal to make it appear like someone is home.

The takeaway: Alexa Guard is one of the more clever smart-home products to come along. Security is a huge deal, but being able to do smart things like adjust the lights to make it seem like someone is home is a step beyond what other tech companies are doing in this space.

2. Amazon introduced a "smart" microwave that costs $60

Amazon's new $60 smart microwave, shipping later this year, comes with an “Ask Alexa” button built-in. You can just press that button and issue a verbal command, like “heat this up for 45 seconds,” to get the timer going.

Amazon’s new microwave also comes with the company’s Dash Replenishment service, which means you can automatically order certain kinds of food, like popcorn, with a push of a button on your microwave.

The takeaway: Why has it taken so long for affordable kitchen appliances like microwaves to get “smart”? This not only benefits consumers, since it’s more futuristic than pressing a a keypad-style arrangement of physical buttons, but the way it integrates Amazon’s services like Alexa and Dash is a great way to get people familiar with those products.

3. Amazon’s $25 “Smart Plug” is a tiny device that could make a huge impact

Amazon unveiled a new gadget called the Smart Plug, which is way cooler than it sounds.

The Smart Plug basically works as a buffer between your wall outlet and any of your appliances, like lights, or fans, or even your coffee maker, to make them “smart.” Just plug any of those devices into the Smart Plug and you’re all set — the Smart Plug is Alexa-enabled so you can turn your lights on or off, for example, using just your voice, even though they weren’t “smart lights” when you bought them.

The takeaway: The $25 Smart Plug is a really easy and convenient way to make non-smart devices act like smart devices. This means you don’t need to buy specific appliances to have voice control, which could have a huge impact on consumers.

4. Amazon’s first DVR device could be a hit with cord-cutters

Amazon unveiled a new TV device called Fire TV Recast, which lets you watch and record live TV content and stream it from anywhere via your Fire TV, Echo Show, Fire tablet, or mobile device.

Amazon is selling two versions: The $229.99 model lets you record up to two shows at once, while the more expensive $279.99 model gives you more storage and the ability to record up to four shows simultaneously. Both devices let you search for shows, or even delete your scheduled recordings, using just your voice with Alexa.

The takeaway: Amazon has been really ambitious about its forays into TV — not only with its original shows and Prime Video service, but also its TV hardware, like the $120 Fire TV Cube unveiled in July, and this new Fire TV Recast. Hopefully, Amazon’s presence will force rival companies in the TV space to make better and more flexible DVR systems to let you watch your favorite shows anywhere.

5. Amazon’s voice assistant could be the best thing that happened to your car

Amazon announced a new accessory called Echo Auto, which lets you have Alexa in your car.

It connects to your car or phone via Bluetooth, and comes with a dashboard mount to stay in place. It uses your car’s cigarette lighter for power (via microUSB), and your phone’s internet connection to power things like in-car navigation and voice control. It will use a new feature called Alexa Auto, which will let you get directions, or search for nearby businesses like Starbucks or McDonalds, using just your voice.

Echo Auto will cost $49.99, but early users will be able to get it for $24.99. Amazon says Alexa Auto will be available “later this year.”

The takeaway: Putting Alexa in the car is smart — really smart. My colleague Cork Gaines put an Echo Dot in his car for months and called it “the best infotainment system we’ve ever used.” Clearly, Alexa can have a huge impact for drivers, since so many of its functions are voice-controlled and hands-free. It’s ideal for playing music, getting news updates, and even controlling your house lights if you forgot to turn those off before you left.

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