Amazon adds screen, video calling to Echo
Amazon is giving its voice-enabled Echo speaker a touch screen and video-calling capabilities as it competes with Google's efforts at bringing 'smarts' to the home.
The 7-inch screen on the new Echo Show enables the speaker to supplement voice responses with visuals and other information displays, similar to the Echo-like features offered on the Fire tablets and Fire TV streaming devices.
That could mean extended weather forecasts, not just current conditions, or music lyrics to go with the song you're listening to. You can also call up cooking tutorials on YouTube, hands-free, while making dinner in the kitchen.
You'll also be able to make hands-free video calls with other Echo Show devices or the Alexa app for iPhones, iPads and Android devices. The Echo and Echo Dot lack screens and cameras, so calls will be limited to audio. Video and audio calls will be free. Amazon says it's bringing calling and messaging features to its existing Echo and Echo Dot devices and the Alexa app starting Tuesday. The Echo Tap is not getting calling features, however.
The new Echo Show goes on sale on June 28 for US$230. The main Echo device is currently on sale for US$150, while a smaller Echo Dot goes for US$50.
The market for voice-assisted speakers is small, but growing. The research firm eMarketer expects usage of such speakers to more than double this year, with nearly 36 million Americans using such a device at least once a month by year's end.
Amazon's Echo is expected to continue its dominance, with a share of nearly 71 per cent, though eMarketer expects Google's Home speaker to cut into that share in the coming years.
A few weeks ago, Google Home got the ability to recognise individuals within a family by voice, allowing for more precise recommendations and ad targeting. So far, Amazon doesn't have a comparable voice-recognition feature.
To retain its dominance, Amazon has introduced other features in a variety of Echo models. Two weeks ago, Amazon unveiled Echo Look, an Echo device with a camera to offer fashion advice. The screen and video calling also help Amazon set the Echo apart from Google Home.
Both devices will get a new rival this fall: on Monday, Microsoft and Samsung's Harman business teased an upcoming speaker, called Invoke, powered by Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant.