Amazon on Tuesday rolled out yet another version of the Echo — this time sporting a screen that allows users to make and take video calls.
The Echo Show, as it's called, signals that Amazon is not only pushing ahead with its goal of ruling the home but is also taking a major shot at a messaging platform. The Echo Show looks to complement — or even supplant — the phone or personal computer when it comes to real-time communication.
It also illustrates how deeply Amazon and other companies want to embed themselves in consumers' lives, with technology that almost fades into the background of our homes.
(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The calls work just about as you might expect, using a front-facing camera. Users can ask Alexa to place a call, and it rings until the person on the other end of the line accepts or rejects it. There's also a “drop-in” mode on the Echo Show, which will automatically accept a video call after 10 seconds.
That could feel invasive to some. But Amazon's ads indicate that only people of your choosing can use the feature — close friends and family, for instance. Recipients can also decline a drop-in or make it audio-only, if they respond in that 10-second window.
The 7-inch screen also serves other purposes. Consumers will be able to watch short videos from YouTube and Amazon on the screen, in addition to movie trailers. If you call up tunes from the company's Prime Music service, the lyrics to songs will scroll by as it plays. The addition of a screen also adds to the smart home functions already available on the Echo with users being able to use the Echo Show to peek in on their home security cameras or baby monitors.
The screen could also make certain apps easier to use, by displaying visual menus rather than having Alexa rattle off a string of options.
Amazon will also let people place video calls through the Alexa app and all Echo users will be able to leave voice mail — effectively sneaking a new Amazon messaging platform onto the Echo, smartphones and tablets.
Messaging has become a killer app for companies, said Gartner analyst Werner Goertz. “It is more strategic to Amazon than you may think,” he said of the new messaging service. Gartner research, he said, has shown that people are spending less time with apps and more time in messaging services overall, making this new messaging service a critical addition for Amazon.
Overall, Goertz said, he sees the Echo Show as a strong addition to Amazon's lineup, augmenting the features of the basic Echo in a thoughtful way. Down the line, he said, he expects Amazon will introduce the Echo Show into offices for video conferencing and perhaps even for telemedicine. He also expects Amazon to fully embrace the e-commerce potential of a screen-toting voice assistant — particularly for apparel. For those who aren't drawn to the more advanced fashion-focused Echo Look the company announced earlier this month, the Echo Show provides more general features.
Home hubs give companies access to a lot of user data, by essentially running the lives of their customers — something that's appealing to companies and perhaps alarming to the privacy-conscious. And the battle in the home hub space is becoming very fierce. Google and Amazon products are already on the market, and a Microsoft home hub was announced earlier this week, as these tech giants vie to become the company that consumers turn to for advice and information at every point in the day.
Apple is also expected to get in on the market, with analysts speculating the announcement of a Siri-powered home hub device, which may also have a screen, as early as next month.
The Show costs $229 and is expected to ship on June 28.