Amazon’s voice-activated speakers are getting an upgrade. Instead of only telling you stuff, they can now show you stuff too.
Bloomberg detailed the unveiling of the Echo Show Tuesday as well, with some initial reactions below:
Debuting at $229 in late June, the new Echo Show features a seven-inch touch screen that can display calendar appointments, play videos, display music lyrics and more. The current highest-end model is $50 cheaper than the Show.
With the debut of the Show and last month’s unveiling of the Echo Look, which can check out a user’s outfit, Amazon now has five Alexa-powered digital assistants.
Amazon might not be after the gadget market in and of itself, though — everything points back to increasing Prime subscriptions and getting users hooked on ordering from Amazon. That said, the Alexa-powered line has nabbed a dominant share of the nascent market (as much as 70 percent of the market according to eMarketer, with Google making up most of the rest). Apple is reportedly working on its own Siri-based version, but it’s tough to say if or when that might be a reality for consumers.
That said, Bloomberg reported on a demonstration they were let in on, and the new entrant in the Alexa lineup seems like a winner:
In a demonstration at Amazon’s San Francisco offices, the Echo Show displayed full weather forecasts, news headlines and LeBron James highlights. The company says the device will also play camera feeds from such connected devices as baby monitors and camera-equipped door bells. Services that already connect to the Echo will be able to display information—say how far an Uber is from your front door or the basic box score for a baseball game. Alexa currently supports 12,000 “skills,” Amazon’s term for third-party services, and over time will offer increasingly comprehensive information, such as the points scored by a specific player.
“We’re not trying to build a phone or tablet interface on this, but extend that ambient nature of what you already have with an Echo,” says Amazon devices chief Dave Limp, who has been testing the Show at home for about a year.
This is the first Echo speaker with a built-in camera. The five-megapixel sensor makes possible a new video conferencing service that Amazon is rolling out alongside the new hardware. Similar to Apple’s FaceTime, the service lets people make video calls from one Echo Show to another, or between the Show and an updated Alexa app on a smartphone. The service doubles as an intercom, allowing a person to call an Alexa speaker in another room without a camera. Users can’t currently make cell phone calls via the Echo Show.
As we move further into an ever-connected, physical web future, we get closer and closer to Tony Stark’s Jarvis — an AI-powered, all knowing home assistant that can literally take care of any and all your needs (often without you even having to ask for it to). Amazon certainly seems to be winning the race into the digital assistant market, but with Apple chomping at their heels, that first mover advantage could easily disappear during the next few years. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple might debut its digital assistant entrant at Apple’s annual developer’s conference. And apparently, Apple “employees have been testing a device at home for several months, according to people familiar with the matter” according to Bloomberg. “While marketing chief Phil Schiller recently talked up the benefits of having a screen on a voice-activated device, it’s not clear whether the Apple version will in fact have one.”
These devices have the potential to quarterback your entire home’s digital footprint, which is growing larger and more sophisticated by the day. The applications for the technology for both consumer and enterprises will be huge, and the neural network undergirding it all could be the ultimate prize — because every interaction with the Alexa system is more information and more data Amazon gets to learn from and apply to the neural network going forward. And if Alexa beats Cortana, Ok Google and Siri into the future, that really could be a market game changer.