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Here's Looking at You, Alexa

By David Jones
Nov 30, 2016 10:04 AM PT
amazon-echo

Amazon is developing a premium version of its Alexa-powered Echo speaker, which will have a 7-inch touchscreen, in a bid to stave off competition from Google and other companies developing rival offerings, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Designed for use in the kitchen, the new device would have an upward-tilting touchscreen that would permit a user to swipe controls from a standing position. Current plans call for it to hit the streets by the first quarter of 2017.

The development would mark an important moment for integrating artificial intelligence with automated home devices. Amazon has seen its line of Alexa digital assistant-based products take off, with the ability not only to stream music wirelessly and deliver news, stocks and traffic information, but also to manage more complicated and sensitive tasks, like controlling home security and automobile ignition, and adjusting everything from thermostats to the amount of light in the living room.

Robust Sales

Amazon Echo and Google Home were among the most buzzed-about items on Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Digital Insights spokesperson Melissa Chanslor.

In fact, Amazon on Tuesday reported a record-breaking Cyber Monday, with sales of the Echo family of devices up seven times compared with Cyber Monday 2015.

The company sold millions of Alexa-related devices over the Thanksgiving weekend, with the Echo Dot, the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, the Fire tablet and the Amazon Echo ranking as the best-selling products from any manufacturer across the site, said Dave Limp, senior vice president, Amazon devices and services.

Amazon sold more than 5.1 million Echo devices in the U.S. since the product was launched in 2014, according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report released earlier this month. Approximately 2 million of the estimated 5.1 million devices sold in the first nine months of 2016 alone, with awareness of the device on the rise.

More than 40 percent of Echo users streamed music on the device, and one-third used it to ask Alexa questions, the report shows.

A touchscreen would be a strong addition to the Echo, which operates mainly through voice controls, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group .

"There are times when having something respond visually rather than verbally is more useful," he told TechNewsWorld. For example, checking news and weather at night, or looking for video, photos or lyrics to go with music, would make voice controlled devices more compelling.

Amazon is selling tablets in the US$30 range to lead into holiday sales, Enderle noted, so the addition of a touchscreen likely would not mean a significant cost increase for the home hub.

A visual option also would help Amazon link Alexa devices to the music store, the retail website and Amazon Fire TV, he added.

A Bigger Pie

A touchscreen addition for the Echo would serve to expand the audience of consumers to those who might want mobile device, suggested Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

"It will simply extend the Alexa options into the realm of a tablet," he told TechNewsWorld. "It could be popular with a certain niche that is already hooked on the Alexa voice interface."

A touchscreen might not be enough to hold back competitors for the digital assistant space, but "the more places Alexa is used, the better for Amazon," said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"The first thing to consider is that companies that have advanced digital assistants, like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, are going to be looking to use these in any and every device in the future," he told TechNewsWorld.

The technology behind Google's digital assistant likely will be used not just in Google Home, McGregor noted, but in every mobile device that uses the Android operating system.


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.


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